Belfast Telegraph

Funnyman John hits a panto milestone as alter ego Dame May signs up for 30th season

Paddy Jenkins (Mr Potts), May McFettridge (Mrs Potts), Georgia Lennon (Belle) and Ben Richards (The Beast)
Paddy Jenkins (Mr Potts), May McFettridge (Mrs Potts), Georgia Lennon (Belle) and Ben Richards (The Beast)
John Linehan
Dress rehearsal: the cast of Beauty and the Beast panto
Lauren Harte

By Lauren Harte

This year is proving to be a major milestone for John Linehan, the face behind Belfast's beloved panto dame, May McFettridge.

The north Belfast comedian's alter ego is certainly no stranger to treading the boards at the city's most iconic entertainment venue, the Grand Opera House.

As an old-hand entertaining audiences as May for decades, John is an annual fixture of Northern Ireland's festive panto season, which is just around the corner.

And this Christmas John will take to the stage for his 30th pantomime but, despite his 67 years, he has absolutely no intention of slowing down.

"30 years? Where does the time go and has Ulster not suffered enough?" he quipped.

"You'd think that after 29 years I'd have had enough of panto but for some reason they keep asking me back," he added.

For his 30th season, John is taking on the role of Mrs Potts in Beauty and the Beast, sharing the stage with former Hollyoaks and Footballers' Wives star Ben Richards and panto favourites Paddy Jenkins and Georgia Lennon.

Beauty and the Beast will be the last show before the theatre closes for ten months of restoration, re-opening in time for the 2020 panto season.

"The Grand Opera House is a special part of Christmas for so many families," John said.

"It's incredible to walk out in front of hundreds of people every night when the place is rocking.

"From the first minute of the show the audience are in it with you and you just hope that everyone knows their lines!

"But they love it when things go wrong and when it happens I just start laughing and the tears stream down over the make-up.

"The audience are howling too which is all part of the fun."

The bawdy Belfast housewife first burst onto the showbiz scene in 1987 and performed her first pantomime at the Opera House, Robinson Crusoe in 1989-90, starring alongside comedian Jimmy Cricket and local personality John Daly

Since then John has appeared numerous times as Widow Twankey, as well as the Nurse in Peter Pan and Snow White, the Cook in Dick Whittington, and Mother Goose in the show of the same name.

As the queen of Belfast pantomime, May is well-known for giving members of the audience their fair share of abuse.

John gets one day off each festive season - Christmas Day - when his wife Brenda makes a traditional dinner before he's back on Boxing Day for two shows.

During his three decades of panto, a host of well-known faces have joined John on stage.

Some, like Ray Meagher (Alf in Home And Away), were more than just a cast member and have remained friends for life.

"I was on the phone to him two days ago as he's recovering from emergency open heart surgery but hopefully that will keep him going for another 70 years," John adds.

This year has certainly been a busy one for the famous face behind the legendary gappy grin and outspoken remarks.

Before he gets back into panto mode, John is preparing for a very different role as he turns his hand to a spot of opera.

Next month, lowbrow will meet highbrow as he says May intends to steal the show with her operatic debut at the GOH. She will play the role of Frosch in Johann Strauss composition Die Fledermaus, which translates as 'The Bat'.

Alongside comedy, golf is another great passion of John's and, as the current captain of Fortwilliam Golf Club, he was "hugely proud" to see The Open back at Royal Portrush this summer.

As part of Sky Sports coverage from the event, he had the chance to chat with golf fans and showcase some of Northern Ireland's tourism 'hotspots' including the Giant's Causeway and Dunluce Castle.

Last year's GOH pantomime sold almost 80,000 tickets, making it the biggest festive show in Northern Ireland. More than 42,000 tickets have already been sold for Beauty and the Beast, which will have all the traditional hallmarks: spectacular sets, jaw-dropping special effects, plus bucket-loads of laughter.

Beauty and the Beast, November 30 - January 12. For further informationm go to:

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