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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

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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