REVIEW: The Elves and The Shoemaker

On seeing Paul Bosco McEneaney’s production of The Elves and The Shoemaker at Belfast’s MAC Theatre, one gets, as is only to be expected from Cahoots NI, something magical, mysterious and musical – but also classy, in every sense of the word.

Not just in terms of the undisputed creative class of its cast and crew, but also in the class of its heroes and its villain, in their manner and status.

The class divide publicly exposed by the toxic split over Brexit and in the background of the recent Tribeca proposal closer to home, entwined and dissected by an intelligent and breezy script which understands how creative and community development can be richer than anything individualist and capitalist. Now that’s timely.

Anyone who can relate to the shortages of freedom and funding around Christmas time, and that’s probably almost everyone these days, will find much to love and enjoy here.

In a similar vein to, but better than, last year’s Hansel And Gretel, The Elves And The Shoemaker (hereafter Elves) has writers Stephen Beggs and Simon Magill adapt the Brothers Grimm by deconstructing filthy Yuletide lucre in a fantastical reality. Where Charles Dickens had his spirits, and Frank Capra had his wingless guardian angel, Elves has... well... elves. Who are also tremendous fun to watch.

Their task is simple, yet difficult. (Doesn’t make sense? Don’t worry, it will.) Marigold (Fiona Carty), Catnip (Aisling Groves-McKeown) and newcomer Dewdrop (Jolene O’Hara) must save the day after loveable shoemakers Stan and Bet Wellington (Sean Kearns and Clare Barrett) are robbed and find themselves unable to afford the rent for their unscrupulous landlady, Ms. Perkins (Emer McDaid).

Showing no sympathy, Perkins demands the Wellingtons pay up by Christmas Eve or she will evict them and make the land her own. Ouch.

So what can our elves do? Especially as they can neither come into contact with humans nor wish to touch their “heart-poisoning”, “spirit-destroying” money? Easy. Take the positive partying and fantasy vibes of the holiday season and weave their magic around them to create the “perfect shoes” for Cinderella (Carty), Puss In Boots (McKeown) and an old homeless woman (O’Hara) to buy from The Wellingtons, while also teaching the nasty Perkins a life-changing lesson.

Production values, structure and flow are as good as anything crafted by a Cahoots-MAC collaboration to date, at times even surpassing themselves. Puns and magic tricks are relatively sparse but always sparkling in a less openly humorous but consistently appealing style of show where Jennifer Rooney’s choreography, Diana Ennis’ set design and Garth McConaghie’s show tunes frequently, and immensely, inspire in their inventive innovation.

The ensemble, at times confidently assisted by six Bangor SERC students on the musical numbers, warm hearts and elevate spirits in their charming dedication. Sean Kearns and Clare Barrett display sweetly understated grace as the central couple, while the dual-roled trio of Fiona Carty, Aisling Groves-McKeown and Jolene O’Hara thrive on bringing spunk, sultriness and comic aptitude to the fore. Carty’s Cinderella song is a personal favourite.

Most impressive is Emer McDaid’s masterful performance as the villain of the piece. Every bit the sneering, superficial faux socialite from a privileged background, Perkins is worse than a Scrooge-like miser or Henry F. Potter-like opportunist – she is an outright cheat, who cares little for staining her reputation in the eyes of those less fortunate simply because she doesn’t like to lose. And the true brilliance of McDaid’s portrayal, after the Elves literally squeeze the bitterness out of Perkins in the show’s best sequence, is the momentary but wholly believable realisation about how hollow and soulless riches are when you have no stories to tell and no one to share them with. In a split second, she subtly redefines a despicable personality and reminds everybody about the importance of character and unity, leaving this reviewer a little choked up. I’m not alone there either.

Simon Fallaha

The Elves And The Shoemaker runs at Belfast’s MAC Theatre until 06 January, 2019. For more information go to

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