Belfast Telegraph

Disabled girl forced to leave Aladdin panto over noisy toy - stage star in plea for family to return to Opera House

By John Porter

Pantomime legend John Linehan has made an appeal to the family of a disabled girl who were left disappointed at their treatment in the Grand Opera House to give it another go.

Jo-Ann Clydesdale was forced to leave the Aladdin pantomime early when audience members and production staff complained about the level of noise her severely disabled daughter's toy was making.

Daughter Aimee is profoundly disabled with complex medical needs, requiring round-the-clock care.

They were given the tickets by the Royal National Institute for the Blind. The 16-year-old uses musical toys as a kind of comfort mechanism. Jo-Ann said she could not turn the toy down as that would annoy Aimee.

She also turned down the offer of a box as Aimee's front row location in the auditorium was ideal for her, given that she is blind.

Jo-Ann told the BBC's Stephen Nolan Show: "I didn't think it would be a problem, the volume was low and there were bangs and fireworks during the show. We've been before and Aimee was louder.

"They told me 'people had come to the Opera House and paid good money to relax and not have the distraction of Aimee beside them'.

"It was heartbreaking to hear words like that and I had to leave, there was no other option." Jo-Ann broke down in tears and returned to her Banbridge home with her daughter to arrange for a babysitter to allow her to return to the city to collect the rest of her family at the end of the show.

She said: "I just wanted to highlight what I had gone through, I'm not looking for anything. Aimee goes everywhere with us, to the likes of hotels and restaurants, and never has anything like this happened before.

"We had been to the pantomime before and it's something she really enjoys, although I think it is May McFettridge she likes the most.

"It's not like a ballet, but we will never be back, certainly not after this. I am just glad Aimee doesn't know what happened."

Comedian John, aka May McFettridge, who plays Widow Twankey in the show, appealed for the family to give the Grand Opera House a second chance.

He said: "This was a delicate situation and I am sorry to hear of this family's experience.

"The Grand Opera House really is a welcoming place for everyone; there are times when seats are removed at the drop of a hat to accommodate wheelchairs.

"This year we had a special show for children with disabilities when the doors were left open and the house lights up to accommodate them and that went down very well.

"If I am lucky to get a 26th year in the pantomime next Christmas, I would hope they would come down and give it another go. And hopefully I'll get to see them and give them a special hello during the performance."

A spokeswoman for the Grand Opera House stressed the complaints were made about the toy's volume and were not directed towards Aimee.

A statement added: "The Grand Opera House prides itself on being a theatre for everyone and accessible to all.

"This particular situation was an incredibly difficult and sensitive one, both for Jo-Ann and Aimee, and the Grand Opera House. We would encourage customers and carers to inform us in advance of their visit of any special access requirements they have so we can endeavour to accommodate or make reasonable adjustment."

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