Mabel’s Magnificent Flying Machine: An original alternative to the mayhem of the pantomime

The Gate Theatre’s Christmas show is an adventure story anchored by a deeper emotional narrative

MABEL’S MAGNIFICENT FLYING MACHINE

Gate Theatre, Dublin
★★★★☆
Oh dear. It is 22 days until Christmas, and Santa's most accident-prone elf, Mabel Mayfly, has crashed through the roof of the Gate Theatre while test-driving her latest invention, a turbo-powered flying machine that she hopes will save Christmas. You see, what grown-ups will never tell you is that Santa is really old, and his reindeers are practically ancient. Kind, creative, curious Mabel is just trying to help…

Written and directed by Louise Lowe, this family show for ages six and up is an adventure story anchored by a deeper emotional narrative. What’s the difference between being bold and being curious? What does it mean to be left out? What is the best way to deal with failure? Why is it important to ask for help?

Dressed in a bright-green boiler suit and Lego-embellished high-tops, Caitríona Ennis breaches the boundaries of the stage to move through the audience, but Owen Boss's design helps to make the audience's boundaries clear

These questions emerge authentically from the plot, as Mabel tries to find a solution to her rather large problem and realises she has a theatre full of young helpers right in front of her. (There is a sideline of historical interest here, too, but this educational element feels extraneous to the adventure story, which, at 60 minutes, feels 10 minutes too long.)

Caitríona Ennis, as the effervescent, energetic Mabel, manages the Covid challenges of audience interaction incredibly well. Dressed in a bright-green boiler suit and Lego-embellished high-tops, she breaches the boundaries of the stage to move through the audience, but Owen Boss’s design helps to make the audience’s boundaries clear. There are foam squares and Mega Bloks and broken slides – the detritus of an exploded play centre – but anything tempting is kept on stage, away from busy hands.

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Sinéad Wallace’s lighting design also establishes the playing spaces clearly, yet – like Carl Kennedy’s sound design – it is also playful and atmospheric. The comfy colour-coded beanbag seats, meanwhile, are crucial in keeping young bums in their seats.

Despite the visual suggestions and narrative cues, the coup du theatre comes as an amazing surprise.

Mabel's Magnificent Flying Machine is an original alternative to the mayhem of the pantomime. Indeed, it has enough humour and chaos to be an excellent rival.

Runs at the Gate Theatre until Friday, December 24th