Belfast Telegraph

Glass hurled at Belfast panto star McFettridge shatters over audience

By Ivan Little

Two men have been arrested after a sold-out pantomime at Belfast's Grand Opera House was marred when a glass was thrown at star of the show May McFettridge.

Police were called and held the pair during Saturday evening's performance of Jack And The Beanstalk in front of more than 1,000 people, including many children.

The panto dame, played by John Linehan, was in a special effects helicopter that 'flew' out into the auditorium above families in the stalls when the glass was hurled.

It's understood it was thrown from a private box above the side of the stage.

It shattered on impact and a member of the audience said the musical director and a number of people in the front rows appeared to have been showered with glass.

Linehan, who has played the lead May McFettridge role in the Opera House panto for 29 years, was unhurt and the show continued until the interval, just minutes after the incident.

It's understood that Opera House staff rushed to the assistance of people in the stalls and confronted two couples in the box.

The PSNI was immediately alerted.

Yesterday it said: "Police received a report that a glass had been thrown onto the stage during a performance at the Grand Opera House in Belfast on the evening of Saturday 15th December.

"Officers attended and spoke to a number of individuals, resulting in the arrest of two men aged 32 and 35 on suspicion of a number of offences including criminal damage and disorderly behaviour.

"Both men were later released on bail pending further enquiries."

The second half of the panto was delayed for a short time.

It's understood that people who were in other parts of the theatre, away from the stalls, were unaware of exactly what had happened.

The Grand Opera House released a brief statement to the Belfast Telegraph yesterday afternoon, but cast members didn't comment.

It said: "We can confirm that the Police Service of Northern Ireland was called to the theatre on Saturday 15 December following an incident involving an audience member at a performance of the pantomime Jack And The Beanstalk. As this is now a police matter, we will not be making any further comment at this time."

It's not clear if the box at the centre of the police investigation was booked on a one-off basis or if it was a corporate booking.

But it's understood that management at the Opera House have been reviewing what measures can be taken to ensure that there's no repeat of Saturday's incident, which sources say is being treated "extremely seriously".

Health and safety officials have also been consulted.

It's thought there may now be a total ban on glasses and bottles being used inside the auditorium.

Theatre-goers in parts of the Grand Opera House are allowed to bring pre-show and interval drinks into the auditorium in plastic glasses.

But hospitality packages offered to patrons who book seats in the stage-side boxes can include canapes and drinks, such as bottles of Champagne or Prosecco.

The theatre's website says the "stunning, ornate, gilt boxes perfectly frame the stage, offering a private seating area dressed in opulent red velvet".

One woman who attended Saturday's panto said: "They shouldn't allow glasses in at all. It's disgusting that a glass was thrown.

"It would have been bad enough at any performance, but the fact that this happened during a pantomime made it even worse, especially as so many children were enjoying a magical night out.

"It could all have ended in tragedy. Someone might have lost an eye from the glass falling down on top of them.

"Why anyone would want to do something like that is beyond me.

"The helicopter scene was mesmerising. It looked like a real helicopter and everyone was ooh-ing and aah-ing as it hovered on stage before flying out into the theatre. It was an amazing stunt.

"You couldn't see any wires or supports for the machine.

"May McFettridge was brilliant. She couldn't have known what was going on, but she held it all together like a real trouper."

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