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  • Chris O'Rourke

Mabel's Magnificent Flying Machine

Catríona Ennis in Mabel’s Magnificent Flying Machine. Ros Kavanagh


Often we miss what’s right in front of our noses. Like very special people. Or like the roof of the Gate Theatre. Into which curious elf, Mabel, has just crashed. Smashing to pieces a prototype sleigh she was told not to test drive. But Mabel's invented a new turbo charger she’s convinced can help Santa get around the world 26 times faster. In Mabel's Magnificent Flying Machine, a pop-up Christmas adventure at the Gate, Louise Lowe's little elf who can sets out to disprove all the doubters. Serving upon a seasonal treat set to delight.

Inspired, in part, by Irish aviator Lilian Bland, one of the first women in the world to design and fly her own plane in 1910, Mabel Mayfly is a woman with a vision. But where Mabel sees vision, others see mischief. Which is why Mabel gets left behind in the Bureau of Broken Things, so she can't cause any more damage. But where others see broken things, Mabel sees new possibilities. And maybe, with a little help, she just might be able to show Santa just how amazing she is.

Like the much loved Rudolph, or Elf, Mabel's Magnificent Flying Machine finds one of Santa's misfits having far more to offer than might at first appear. Steeped in retro charm full of modern twists, Lowe's entertaining tale sets out to empower its young audience. Like Mabel's maiden flight, it has something of a bumpy take off followed by intermittent turbulence, and not everything lands as well as it might. For in seeking a wide appeal, language and ideas sometimes sail over the heads of very young ears, not always immediately clear as to what's going on. All of which is shortlived, with Mabel's Magnificent Flying Machine being a story wrapped in an encounter with an extraordinary elf. One whose perkiness and determination are an utter delight. Lowe casting wisely in Catríona Ennis, who clearly ignored W.C. Fields' warning: never work with animals or children.

Catríona Ennis in Mabel’s Magnificent Flying Machine. Ros Kavanagh

Unforgiving and relentlessly demanding, children are not averse to letting you know if they're not happy. Yet an energetic and endearing Ennis has them eating from her hand. Moving through a sea of bean bags, inviting comments and advice, remarking on a lovely sparkly dress, Ennis is never less than engaging, and frequently enthralling to her young audience, many enjoying their first experience of theatre. In which Owen Boss's nod towards Chitty Chitty Bang Bang adds to the seasonal, childlike cheer, ensuring Mabel appeals both to the very young and to those with a few more years under their belt.

Despite some expositional rough edges, Lowe's first foray into writing for children passes the acid test: keeping its young audience engaged, entertained and wanting more. All made infinitely more enjoyable by an energised Ennis. Who, one suspects, is going to need a week long retreat in the spa of her choosing once Mabel's Magnificent Flying Machine is complete. That, or trauma therapy. But Ennis will have made some very special Christmas memories by then. As will every girl and boy who gets to meet Mabel and her magnificent flying machine.

Mabel's Magnificent Flying Machine, written and directed by Louise Lowe, starring Catríona Ennis, runs at The Gate Theatre until December 24.

For more information visit The Gate Theatre

Suitable for 6+


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