Belfast Telegraph

May McFettridge swaps panto for nights at the opera

John Linehan performing as May McFettridge in a comic turn in opera Die Fledermaus
John Linehan performing as May McFettridge in a comic turn in opera Die Fledermaus
Ben McAteer, May McFettridge, Maria McGrann and Stephan Loges
John Linehan

By David O'Dornan

It's May McFettridge as you have never seen her before.

John Linehan's alter ego is no stranger to treading the boards at Belfast's most iconic venue, only this time he will actually be helping to put the opera in Grand Opera House.

That's because he will be starring in Die Fledermaus in a role that is something of a departure from what he is best known for.

As an old hand entertaining audiences as May for decades, John is an annual fixture as the main attraction of pantomime season in Northern Ireland.

But now lowbrow will meet highbrow as May intends to steal the show with her operatic debut in the Johann Strauss composition, which translates as 'The Bat'.

In an exclusive interview with the Belfast Telegraph, John said he was relaxed about the part and is looking forward to the new challenge.

"The character they want me to play is called Frosch, this person is a jailer - but a drunken jailer," he explained.

"Apparently when they do Die Fledermaus anywhere in the world, they always get a local comic to play Frosch.

"I said, Why me?' And the director just looked me up and down as if to say, 'You like a wee drink!' So I don't know whether I'm typecast!"

John (67) said he is ready to research the opera and see footage of previous productions as he adapts May for the upcoming show, conceding that this will be a learning curve for him.

He said: "Well, with any operas which I've been to, which is none ... I wouldn't have a clue, so I'd love to see a production of Die Fledermaus to see just what way the character is.

"It's just going to be great. Obviously it's a comic role, it's a funny role, because there was always something funny for my character in opera.

"Northern Ireland Opera have seen me in pantomime, they're stationed in the Opera House and have offices in there, so obviously they think I'm ideal for the role and that's great, it's just right up my street.

"It's all new to me; the only thing I know about opera is they don't like it when you join in singing."

So, does that mean that May will be belting out a bit of opera as well as the comic turn expected of her?

John laughed: "I sincerely hope not. I did for singing what Herod did for babysitting!"

Yet the north Belfast comedian is keen to point out that this is not panto - although it will be May in a role that she has never been in before.

And he said he is thinking that he might use some influences from a prison soap, as well as Line of Duty star Adrian Dunbar, when he brings his character to life on stage.

He said: "When I read the part and I get the script, you have to put your slant on it, and until I get that I can't say.

"You know Prisoner Cell Block H, the Australian soap, where it was all about the females in a prison? I think it'll be something along those lines they are thinking.

"When you see what you're doing, if you're a jailer and there's two people got arrested and you're throwing them into the slammer, you have to see what way it is.

"I might just be like Adrian Dunbar in Line of Duty and just put the Northern Ireland one-liners in it, like 'Now we're sucking diesel!' You know all the ones he does in Line of Duty?

"Or 'Do you think I came up the Lagan in a bubble?' I might just get wee Belfastisms like 'Bout ye' or 'Get in there ye clampit', something like that, you know?"

John agrees that a major positive of accepting the part is that it will - he hopes - entice people to come and see an opera for the first time.

He said: "Well, it might attract people who would be fans of May who've never seen an opera before.

"There's mates of mine have said, 'Oh we'll have to get to that,' but they would never have seen an opera in their life.

"It's like when I remember the first panto I saw - I was in it. This is going to be the first opera I've ever seen, and I'll be in it, because I've never seen it before."

As a panto mainstay, John is part of the furniture at the Grand Opera House and this year will mark an incredible 30th year in a row as a dame. He said this marks a good way to celebrate the milestone.

And he joked that now that he is turning his hand to opera, he has gone up in the world.

He said: "Oh yes, absolutely - there will be nobody talking to me! I'm getting a lot of stick now because I'm also captain of Fortwilliam Golf Club this year.

"So a lot of things have happened in 2019: my 30th year at the Opera House, my first opera, and my first time as captain of Fortwilliam.

"So it's been a big year - please God it all finishes good."

Die Fledermaus is 145 years old and tells the story of Falke, who wakes up on a bench with a killer hangover, dressed as a bat, having been abandoned after a party.

He bides his time to seek revenge at the most glamorous party of the season where there will be champagne and a backdrop of Viennese waltzes and brilliant comedy.

Die Fledermaus will open with a black tie charity gala performance in aid of the Welcome Organisation on Sunday, September 15. Tickets are priced £16.75-£61.25. It runs until Saturday, September 21. For more details visit the goh.co.uk website

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