Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Friday 23rd November, 2018
No matter how beautiful you are, there’s no danger of dozing off during this year’s festive offering at the Belgrade. As usual, it’s written and directed by the mighty Iain Lauchlan, who also appears as amiable dame, Nanny Fanny McWheeze, this is a cavalcade of fun, showing off Lauchlan’s mastery of the form, his skills as a performer, and crucially, his innovations. For example, the traditional slosh scene (icing a cake) is set-up brilliantly, involving an Alexa-type device (a Scottish version named Morag!) who reels off the instructions of how to play the sport curling, which the cast mistake for cake-decorating tips. Add to the mix, a hapless member of the audience who is game for a laugh, and this extended slapstick scene builds superbly. Genius!
Also returning is Lauchlan’s regular stage partner, the hilarious Craig Hollingsworth. This year he’s Muddles the Jester, and he’s as irritable as Nanny Fanny is amiable. Hollingsworth’s short temper and long-suffering stance are the perfect foil for Lauchlan’s kindnesses, and also for the more saccharine elements of the story. If this partnership ever splits, the Belgrade will probably crumble.
In the title role, Melissa Brown-Taylor is a plucky Princess Belle, while Joanna Thorne’s Prince Valiant is leggy and heroic as a principal boy should be; (it seems contemporary theatre is catching up with the gender-swapping that has been a staple of pantomime all along!). Declan Wilson is a cuddly King Hugo, with Vicky Field making an impression as his ill-tempered, ill-fated Queen. Field soon reappears as Grunge, sidekick to the evil fairy in an enjoyable portrayal. Anna Mitcham’s good fairy Azurial is, in her own words, ‘perky’, assisted by a troupe of youngsters as her fairy assistants. But it is Laura Judge’s villainous Carabosse who almost steals the show. Bitterly melodramatic, Judge’s high-camp performance is a treat.
There is spectacle, of course: watch out for a dragon (it’d be hard to miss!) and a lively ensemble in beautiful story-book costumes by Terry Parsons. Jenny Phillips’s choreography gets its big moment in the Act Two opener. The original songs (by Lauchlan, Liz Kitchen and Steve Etherington) aren’t bad, each one serving its purpose and played by a tight combo under the able baton of Dan Griffin. There are well-worn routines given a new spin, and up-to-date topical references.
The overall feel is trad meets new, and like the Prince and Princess, it’s a perfect match.
Something’s come between us! Iain Lauchlan and Craig Hollingsworth perform a spot of high culture (Photo: Robert Day)
Leave a comment | tags: Anna Mitcham, Belgrade Theatre Coventry, Craig Hollingsworth, Dan Griffin, Declan Wilson, Iain Lauchlan, Jenny Phillips, Joanna Thorne, Laura Judge, Liz Kitchen, Melissa Brown-Taylor, pantomime, review, Sleeping Beauty, Steve Etherington, Terry Parsons, Vicky Field | posted in pantomime, Review, Theatre Review
Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Friday 25th November, 2016
My first Christmas show of the season and it’s a cracker! The Belgrade may not hire the ‘big’ names on the panto circuit but this is more than compensated for by a traditional show performed by consummate professionals who actually have the necessary skills.
I am pleased to see a revival of the tradition of the principal boy. Tricia Adele-Turner is a good-natured, honest and upright Dick. Pantomime, it turns out, was ahead of the game when it comes to gender-blind casting. Dick’s faithful companion, Tommy the Cat, is the acrobatic and flexible Becky Stone, who manages to inject her singe-word vocabulary with a wide range of expression! Kelly Agredo is a charming love interest as Alice Fitzwarren, while Declan Wilson offers sterling support as her father Alderman Fitzwarren. Wilson also appears as the Sultan of Morocco, here more of a Ben Gunn figure in an amusing cameo. Anna Mitcham is a spirited Fairy Bow Bells, spouting Cockney rhyming slang like a U certificate Danny Dyer.
The driving energy of the show comes from writer/director Iain Lauchlan who also appears as the dame, Sarah the Cook. Teamed up with Craig Hollingsworth’s Idle Jack, the pair are a force to be reckoned with, handling the audience with apparent ease. One man is brought onto the stage several times for ritual humiliation – and the rest of us sit back in relief to enjoy his discomfort, except it’s all so good-natured and kind, it is nothing but fun. This is a panto with a big, generous heart – Lauchlan’s heart, it must be. He is canny enough to include the traditional elements we expect to see but, as the use of the audience member illustrates, is able to make those traditions fresh.
Whether onstage together or alone, Lauchlan and Hollingsworth exude joy and benevolence. In total contrast is Melone M’Kenzy as the formidable and imposing Queen Rat. For me this is the star performance of the show, a villain who is actually villainous. She is a sassy supermodel, dressed for Halloween and has a rich singing voice that is to die for. Queen Rat’s henchmen Scratch and Sniff (Matthew Brock and Eden Dominique) are also great value – Lauchlan wisely gives them plenty to do.
The songs are original – I usually prefer pantos to have well-known pop hits and standards – but in this instance, Liz Kitchen’s compositions are great, especially those performed by M’Kenzy.
Mark Walters’s costumes are a visual treat – naturally (if that’s the right word) Sarah the Cook’s outfits are the eyepopping best. Production values in general are of a high quality and, given the nature of the script and its handling by one of pantomime’s most skilled proponents, pantomime in Coventry is in very safe hands indeed.
Rat pack: Matthew Brock, Melone M’Kenzy and Eden Dominique (Photo: Robert Day)
Leave a comment | tags: Anna Mitcham, Becky Stone, Belgrade Theatre Coventry, Craig Hollingsworth, Declan Wilson, Dick Whittington, Eden Dominique, Iain Lauchlan, Kelly Agredo, Liz Kitchen, Mark Walters, Matthew Brock, Melone M'Kenzy, pantomime, review, Tricia Adele-Turner | posted in pantomime, Theatre Review