Belfast Telegraph

News flash... BBC's Noel Thompson in straitjacket as he gets into character for Belfast opera

BBC news presenter Noel Thompson in character for Die Fledermaus
BBC news presenter Noel Thompson in character for Die Fledermaus

By David O'Dornan

It's the BBC's Noel Thompson as you have never seen him before.

For years he has been frightening the life out of our local politicians as he grills them on the big issues of the day.

But now he is set to be even scarier - taking to the stage in a straitjacket with wild hair and a bloodied face.

His deranged look is all part of his new role as Falke in opera Die Fledermaus, as our exclusive pictures show.

In make-up for his part
In make-up for his part

He said: "In the overture in this particular production we see Falke's nightmares that he's had about a trick that was played upon him.

"So as part of that nightmare I'm this straitjacketed lunatic, if that's not unfair to lunatics, but you know what I mean.

"It's part of a fantasy/nightmare sequence which sets the opera up and the whole idea of the 'revenge of the bat'.

"There are those who would say it's about time I was in a straitjacket.

"Die Fledermaus is a tale of sex and revenge to the music of Strauss's wonderful waltzes.

"Die Fledermaus is a romp basically - it's light-hearted, it's built on the most extraordinarily improbable case of mistaken identity. It's all lightly risque, all in the best possible taste of course.

"This is Northern Ireland! There's nothing that anyone could remotely take offence at, but it's all good fun."

Noel's transformation, however, did not involve him spending hours in make-up beforehand.

"I look pretty horrific to start with," he joked. "Obviously the straitjacket explains itself and then we just made me look slightly more insane.

"I've had years of practice. Facing politicians on Good Morning Ulster is good practice ... no, don't you dare say that! Years of dealing with the unexpected, shall we say."

His latest performance will see him join local comic John Linehan - aka May McFettridge - who is making his operatic debut, and it is the first time they have shared a stage together.

Noel said: "It absolutely is and I don't know who is more shocked - me or him.

In make-up for his part
In make-up for his part

"We all know John's 3,000 panto appearances, and he doesn't have to sing in this opera, but it's so funny to see him there and the thing about John is you never quite know what's going to come next.

"An opera has a script of course, and my feeling is that he's been sticking pretty closely to the script but I would be prepared to bet a large sum of money that on the first night there will be one or two little shocks for everyone in the cast if he goes into full OTT mode.

"For those in the cast who don't know John, some of the singers and so on, they don't know that he's a bit of a secret weapon but I do, of course.

"It's very interesting to see him in a different set-up.

"Certainly there will be people who will be saying 'if it's good enough for May McFettridge, it's good enough for me'. And if that makes more people interested, well, then it can only be a good thing."

And if May McFettridge can have a go at opera, will we see Noel Thompson trying his hand at panto any time soon?

"I never refuse any reasonable offer," he laughed. "It's never come up but I did once do My Fair Lady at the Opera House in one of those one-day productions which was quite good fun so I'll do anything for a laugh.

"The panto is 150 performances so I could never do that - whereas the opera is four performances - but you know, if anyone considers I'm worthy of a change of career I'll consider any reasonable offer."

Noel has had a long love affair with opera, having sang for 15 years with Castle Ward Opera - "which was an absolute delight" - and now with Northern Ireland Opera, which has the use of the Ulster Orchestra.

Die Fledermaus marks his fifth show and the hard-working newsman admits that it is a tiring balancing act with the day job on the Good Morning Ulster radio show.

He said: "I'm just delighted to still have the opportunity to do it.

"Early starts are never easy and then the opera is a big time commitment.

"It's six hours a day when you get your schedule at the beginning of the run and this week it's actually longer hours than that.

"It's pretty knackering to be fair.

"And I've also got the Proms this weekend of course which is another little thing to look after. But I thrive on the activity - you're tired but it's a great way to be tired.

"I'm so pleased I can still do it and as long as I can and as long as I pass the auditions I'll be happy to do it - it's very much a matter of making hay while the sun shines."

And is treading the boards an opportunity for some escapism during what is a heavy news cycle dominated by politics and Brexit?

He said: "It is except that I still have to be right on top of everything. But the thing is that everyone is interested in Brexit - that is one thing about this period in our political life, it's got pretty much everybody interested in it which, I guess, you can argue is a good thing.

"People are always asking, 'What's happening?' If I had the inside track I'd be a rich man.

"Everyone has a view on it but while you are on stage you can forget about the backstop for five minutes or an hour-and-a-half or whatever as the wonderful waltzes of Strauss take over your brain."

He added: "In work I sing all the time before the radio show and quite often during it. I always have a tune in my head somewhere. People sometimes say that they hear me before they see me because I'm always whistling or singing something, you get these ear worms and for the last four weeks I've been singing Strauss."

Die Fledermaus by Johann Strauss runs at the Grand Opera House in Belfast from tomorrow night, Sunday 15 until Saturday, September 21. Tickets can be bought at goh.co.uk

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