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The small girl who made a big impression on Ulster's Pantomime fans at the Grand Opera House

By Paul Carson

Published 21/04/2014

It's off to work we do...the seven dwarfs about to set off for the diamond mines in Snow White at the New Vic. 15/12/1984
It's off to work we do...the seven dwarfs about to set off for the diamond mines in Snow White at the New Vic. 15/12/1984
Young Actress Amanda Huxley (Mandy Smith). 18/12/1982
Little Red Ridding Hood, played by Tara Mills, makes a posy with some flowers in the woods as Wolf, Trevor Furness, comes up behind her in a scene from the Belvoir Players Pantomine 'Red Riding Hood' at the Group Theatre, Belfast. 29/12/1983
Rehearsing for their panto are Rosemary Purdy as 'Jack' and Wilbur Wright as 'Dame Trot.' 18/12/1984
Muddles (Bobby Bennett) has his picnic with Dame Doughnut (Duggie Clark) eaten by a snake during Snow White and the Seven Dwarf's in the New Vic. 13/12/1984
Some of the cast from the Lisnagarvey Operatic and Dramatic Society Pantomime Jack and the Beanstalk. Pictured in rehearsal are Diane Rossborough, Karen Phillips, Ian Milford and Jim Stewart. 2/12/1983
Dancers of the Hunting Scene. Front row (from left) Carolyn Hinds, Jillian MacRae, Lesley-Ann Wilson, Donna Watson, Anne Hinds. Back row: Arlene Irwin and Paddy Robertson. 31/12/1982
Billy Rea starred as one of the Ugly Sisters in Cinderella at the Little Theatre, Bangor. 17/12/1982
Members of the Belmont Presbyterian Church Guild staging Ali baba and the 40 Thieves. Pictured in a scene from the pantomime are (from left) Paul Blease, as Mustapha Dubbhal, Gary Cooper as Selina Ali Baba, Karla Gordon as Hassan, Sharon Weir as Jasmine and Jonathan Bill as Grab Ali Khan. 13/12/1984
The Two Ugly Sisters, Iasbella (Peter Kennedy) and Amy (Michael McDowell) in Cinderella. 31/12/1982
Leading Lady Cinderella (Karen Davidson) and Prince Charming (Eileen Martin) in a scene from the Ulster operatic company production of 'Cinderella' at the Harberton Theatre, Balmoral. 31/12/1982

Pantomime has a long theatrical history, which includes songs, slapstick comedy and dancing, it employs gender-crossing actors, and combines topical humour with a story loosely based on a well-known fairy tale.

It is a  participatory form of theatre, in which the audience is expected to sing along with certain parts of the music and shout out phrases to the performers.

Going through the archives I found a cutting about young actress Mandy Smith who proved she was well up to scratch for her role back in December 1982.

For she won the hearts of hundreds panto fans with a 'purr-fect' performance as Dick Whittinghton's cat Tommy in a show at Belfast's Grand Opera house.

Mandy enjoyed her role as much as the audience:

" Frank Carson keeps me laughing on the stage. I sometimes just crack up with the giggles under my mask and once I started laughing I can't stop," she said.

" He'll make a joke and say something like 'It''s enough to make a cat laugh'."

Under the stage lights she did find that her furry cat suit became uncomfortable.

"...the first night I was absolutely sweating particularly my face under the head mask." said Mandy.

Some people fond Mandy all too convincing in the role. Part of her routine was run out into the audience and sit on a child's knee.

On one occasion a little girl went to pick her up, think Mandy was a teddy bear.

At a dinty 4ft. 4in. tall, the petite 16-year-old from Hammersmith had been a pupil of Corona Stage School in London and didn't pussyfoot around when she was offered the pantomine role.

This was her first taste of pantomime, auditioning for the role in London she took the plunge and landing on her feet.

" I was pleased about coming to Belfast, but my mum was a bit worried, " she said, " I like it here, the people are very friendly. I hope this is one of many pantos for me."

Even with this being young mandy's first panto, the teen who went under the stage name Amdnda Huxley, had an impressive range of acting experience to her credit, which included roles in two west End shows and film parts.

" I've a lot of advantages being small, I van always play young parts." she said.

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