Venue: The MAC, Belfast
Producers: Cahoots NI & The MAC
The moon is full, the sky is starry and the elves are out to play. Mischievous Dewdrop (Jolene O’Hara) is new to this magic game and must prove herself worthy of being accepted into Marigold (Fiona Carty) and Catnip’s (Aisling Groves McKeown) enchanted circle. To this end, she fixes her gaze on kindly shoemaker Stan Wellington (Sean Kearns), with whom she feels an unspoken connection.
Years before when he was a boy, Stan was told by his father about the elves’ complex relationship to humans, but he had not believed him. It all seemed too far-fetched. But now, as he and his devoted wife Bet (Claire Barrett) find themselves unexpectedly threatened with eviction by a ruthless landlady/property developer called Miss Perkins (a deliciously sparky performance by Emer McDaid), he wishes that he had paid more attention to his father’s instructions and built trust with these benevolent little folk.
Stephen Beggs and Simon Magill have cleverly woven elements from other fairytales into their intriguing storyline. As a display of mouthwatering shoes come and go from the shop window and Stan and Bet’s finances dwindle alarmingly, strange events begin to occur, along with a string of uninvited guests.
Cinderella (Carty) drifts in and cannot resist slipping on a pair of sparkly pumps. Puss in Boots (Groves McKeown) – straight out of the musical Cats – pulls on a pair of sexy, thigh-high boots and, lo and behold, here’s the Old Lady Who Lives in a Shoe (O’Hara), snapping up a boot large enough to accommodate her unruly brood.
As the tale unwinds and the jeopardy levels rise, director Paul Bosco McEneaney unleashes the full welly of his inventive theatrical imagination onto a catalogue of baffling illusions, while Garth McConaghie’s sophisticated songscape sounds unmistakeable echoes of Sondheim.
Jennifer Rooney’s choreography has a delightfully old-fashioned, otherworldly feel to it, while the combination of James McFetridge’s soft lighting and Diana Ennis’s teetering, topsy turvy set design make for a candy-coloured visual treat.
In a nuanced, sweetly understated performance, Kearns’s Stan proves himself the heart and soul and twinkling feet and moral compass of this skilfully constructed piece of family theatre.
Runs until 6 January 2019
An edited version of this review was first published in The Stage on 11 December.