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Panto beats the recession to pack them in everywhere in Northern Ireland

By Claire McNeilly

Published 17/12/2015

The cast of Belfast Waterfront’s Cinderella
The cast of Belfast Waterfront’s Cinderella
The popular Rumpelstiltskin production at the Mac
May McFettridge, Chico and Lauren Nevin in Snow White at the Grand Opera House

It had been one of the innocent casualties of the recession­ - but now festive family entertainment is back with a bang.

Northern Ireland has returned to the stage - literally in most cases - where people are now happy to shell out for the hitherto luxury of bringing the family along to the theatre for a yule-tide show.

Belfast's Lyric, for instance, has just reported its busiest two weeks ever, and says it will "comfortably exceed" last year's record of 24,000 people coming through its doors this Christmas.

Record numbers are also bringing seasonal cheer at the Mac and Waterfront Hall despite there being little change out of £70 for a typical family outing of two adults and two kids to the various shows.

That great survivor through good times and bad, May McFettridge, is back for the 26th festive season running as May the Cook alongside former X Factor star Chico in Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs at the Grand Opera House.

It started on November 28, with tickets costing between £17 and £32 for the two-hour show (including a 20-minute interval), and a spokeswoman said it has been entertaining huge crowds.

"We're doing really well and it's definitely slighter busier than usual this year," she added.

Renewed confidence about the future, allied to a general increase in disposable income, has helped boost the box office takings at the big venues.

"We're having a very busy Christmas this year, with three unforgettable shows," said a Lyric spokesman.

"We have Marie Jones' Christmas Eve Can Kill You for the adults, plus Little Red Riding Hood And The Big Bad Wolf for the kids. And we've just opened our Christmas musical, Putting It Together, by Stephen Sondheim.

"Advanced sales suggest that we'll comfortably exceed last year's record for two shows; with a third one running this year we're set to have a lot of people through the doors in December and January."

Tickets for Little Red Riding Hood, which lasts one hour, 40 minutes (including a 15-minute break) cost £18 per adult and £12.50 per child. Christmas Eve Can Kill You and Putting It Together are both two-hour shows (with 20-minute intervals) costing £22.50 and £20 respectively.

Mac chief executive Anne McReynolds said it was refreshing to see families returning year after year to what is a relatively new venue, and one which is shaping up to have its busiest Christmas ever.

"During December we'll welcome over 10,000 to see Rumpelstiltskin," she said.

"We've already had 3,375 school children through our doors in the past 13 days, including hundreds who have participated in our 'MACtile tours' project which offers theatre experiences to children with autism sensory disorders.

"And for the adults, there's Pony Panto in the Upstairs Theatre which has been selling out every year, so it's not just the children who get to have all the fun."

Adult tickets for Rumpelstiltskin, which lasts just under two hours (including a 20-minute break), are priced at £22, while it costs £10 per child.

Pony Panto, which will set you back £17 a time, is a 90-minute show (including interval).

The Waterfront Hall will be staging Cinderella to packed houses until January 3, and there won't be any empty seats for the one-day special Muppet Christmas Carol on December 23.

Tickets for Cinderella, which lasts two hours, five minutes (including a 15-minute interval) cost £17 per adult and £15 per child, while it's £3 for a ticket for the two-hour long Muppet movie, or £6 for the snack box deal, which includes goodies such as chocolate, crisps, soft drink and fruit.

Susie McCullough, director of marketing and commercial development at the Waterfront and Ulster Hall, said that parents taking their children to pantomime is what really marks the beginning of the Christmas season, rather than the shop sales which have essentially been going on all year.

"Families have been flocking to our pantomime, Cinderella, and the festive atmosphere is magical," she said.

"And we're looking forward to seeing the auditorium being transformed into Belfast's biggest movie theatre for the Muppet Christmas Carol. It should be quite an atmosphere on the day before Christmas Eve."


Snow White: £17-£33, 2 hours (inc 20 min interval)

Rumpelstiltskin: Adult - £22; Child - £10, 2 hours (inc 20 min break)

Little Red Riding Hood: Adult - £18; Child - £12.50; Family - £54, 1 hr 40 mins (inc 15 min interval)

Cinderella: Adult - £17; Child - £15, 2 hours 5 mins (inc 15 min interval)

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