'Overly garrish, flapping, whimsical and foolish' – Ivan Little leaves his broadcasting days behind him to play the dame at the Waterfront Hall
They said it couldn’t be done. They said that such a serious actor and broadcaster couldn’t pull it off. They said that a man the size of a modest maisonette with a beard you could lose a sure-bet in could never play a convincing woman.
They say a lot of things, don’t they? But in this case, 'they' were only right about the latter – the ironically-named Ivan Little makes for a terrible woman, but a horrifyingly great pantomime dame.
All the hype about Ivan the Fabulous in the build-up to the Waterfront’s seasonal counterpart to the May McFettridge show at the Grand Opera House – and a plethora of other pantos in Derry~Londonderry and everywhere inbetween – served to raise the question of whether Belfast was big enough for two big old Christmas queens.
On watching Sleeping Beauty alongside a battalion of screaming 6-year-olds, however, it turns out that there’s plenty of room for both.
Produced by Martin Lynch and Joe Rea, Sleeping Beauty may have the august pedigree of the venerable Lynch mob behind it, but its supreme seasonal silliness is clearly down to the guiding hands of writer PJ O’Reilly and director Lisa May of Bruiser Theatre fame. There’s more than a little of the Bruiser fast-frame cartoon physicality about this otherwise textbook panto.
In the best tradition of the genre, there is of course a king with a daughter, a daughter with a dilemma, a handsome if endearingly stupid male hero, and a chorus of camp accomplices to the alpha she-male star turn of the strapping dame. The dame is of course the grizzly, vomni-sexual fulcrum of any pantomime worth its admission fee.
Overly garish, flapping, whimsical and even foolish at first, she ultimately proves wise enough to save the day, and let the dumb hero take the glory. Typical male...
It’s an amusing irony in our rather uptight society that a man can leap into a frock and lippy at Christmas and parents are clamouring to get their kids front row seats, but try the same thing on a Wednesday afternoon on Royal Avenue and they're crossing the road in horror.
Little plays Lady MaMa (whose name is never uttered here without the accompanying 'Bad Romance' vocal) with absolutely no concession to femininity. He’s a towering behemoth of a bearded fairy queen with more costume changes than Liberace with a leaky catheter.
The campest shocker in his 'too gaudy for Pat Butcher' wardrobe must be the pink fingerless gloves and boob tube ensemble – it has to be seen to be believed. In short (or even too tight harem pants), Ivan Little is blissfully unsettling – a bloated, farting Chanel nightmare.
Fairy Pimpleton is a memorable villain, played like a malevolent Bonnie Langford by the erstwhile nutty nanny of Eastenders, Tara Lynne O’Neill. She’s so evil she even tries to have her own son, Will.I.Am.Not (geddit?), eaten by goblins, although some would say that he’s so wet, he’d make more of a drink. And Princess Beautiful is 'totes gorgeous' – words you’d never expect to hear coming from the mouth of Ivan Little.
The plot is neither here nor there, and needless to say the boy gets the girl in the end, good prevails and all is well, but the fun in panto is in the communal hollering that propels the cast into further flights of silliness.
And five or so schools'-worth of children launch into their time-honoured choral calls with a shrill early morning gusto that dislodges the plaque from the teeth of hungover hacks. Special mention must also go to Mary Moulds and Julie Maxwell as Belfast pop-bitch fairies Cheryl Dole and Katy Fairy – wisecracking, bogling and Beyonce-ing their way through the show’s technicoloured and slightly psychedelic set.
A small gripe with this otherwise good fun production might be in the lack of adult-orientated innuendo. It’s also the job of the dame to bridge the chasm between childish wonder at the fantastical and knowing adult tittering at the emergence of a 'big chopper'.
Lady MaMa doesn’t quite have the finely honed smut of McFettridge either. But it’s a minor flaw in a show that is, after all, unashamedly for kids. Except maybe for the baffling temporal paradox sub-plot that even the characters joke is beyond them. Them and Doctor Who...
So Sleeping Beauty meets its brief, tweaks its brief’s nose and then blows a big friendly raspberry to all. The conventions of royalty, marriage and traditional love win the day whilst simultaneously being subverted. A good morning’s work then for LANA Productions and good clean-ish fairytale fun for us. Oh yes it is.
Sleeping Beauty runs in the Waterfront Hall until January 5.