Tag Archives: Declan Wilson



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.

Iain Lauchlan & Craig Hollingsworth as Nanny McWheeze & Muddles - photo credit Robert Day

Something’s come between us! Iain Lauchlan and Craig Hollingsworth perform a spot of high culture (Photo: Robert Day)

Dick Leads The Way


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)

Beautiful and Beastly


Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Thursday 3rd December, 2015


Not as commonly performed as a pantomime (everyone else seems to be doing Aladdin or Peter Pan this year) Beauty and the Beast has become irrevocably influenced by the Disney version. Audiences expect to see certain things – this new stab at the familiar tale by Iain Lauchlan hits the nail on the head to deliver a traditional panto that adheres to the plot and satisfies in almost all areas.

Lauchlan also directs and plays Dame Clarabelle Crumble – evidently he is a master of the genre. A lively script with corny and cheeky gags in abundance, a spirited performance and an eye for detail; Lauchlan brings all of these to the party. Things get off to a dark and dramatic start with the selfish Prince (Charlie Bowyer) abusing peasants and ending up transformed into the Disneyesque beast. Lauchlan handles the drama as deftly as the traditional panto skits and keeps the plot rattling along, with diversions along the way for a slosh scene in a bakery, for example. The Dame is aided and abetted by her son Willy Crumble (Craig Hollingsworth) opening the door for Willy jokes by the bucketful. It’s cheeky but never smutty and keeps the adults laughing as much as the kiddies. Hollingsworth is clearly in his element here. Willy is a kind of Buttons figure, suffering the pangs of unrequited love for Beauty, and is generally responsible for most of the broader laughs and bouts of silliness. The pantomime force is strong in these two.

Jessica Niles is the eponymous Beauty, vivacious and confident – she has more to do in the second act, which gives her opportunity to demonstrate her sweet singing voice. Charlie Bowyer’s Beast is scary, making us all jump out of our seats a couple of times, but we grow to like him as he struggles to find compassion. His singing voice is deep and rich – a pity their duet is a bit nondescript.

Andrew Gordon-Watkins is a commanding villain, the vainglorious Maurice (a version of Gaston from the film). He’s a great deal of fun with his posturing and posing – we enjoy disliking him and here’s where we run into trouble. Our loyalties are torn between him and the Beast, so when Maurice asks us to cheers along with him “We’re coming for you, Beastie” I don’t feel like it. By this point, I quite like the Beast and I don’t know whose side I’m supposed to be on. It would be better if we were shouting against Maurice’s plan.

Maurice is supported by dim-witted sidekick Dork, played by an energetic and expressive Blake Scott. Again, we enjoy him immensely but we shouldn’t be expected to be on his side.

There is strong support from Declan Wilson as Beauty’s father – indeed it falls to him to carry most of the dramatic weight of the plot, which is no mean feat when he is surrounded by such silliness. Choreographer Jenny Phillips also appears as the Enchantress, who features as our narrator, linking scenes and spelling things out. (Enchantress/spelling things out… suit yourself). Her team of dancers (a few pros and a company of local children) have plenty to do, appearing as villagers, weird creatures in the castle, a pack of wolves, and so on.

It all takes place on an impressive set, designed by Mark Walters, which has elements of fairy-tale castle and pop-up story book to it. The costumes are bright and extravagant; production values are high – it’s the Belgrade’s biggest show of the year.

Apart from a couple of weak musical numbers (I mean the material not the performance) the quality doesn’t flag. This is an excellent pantomime, steeped in traditions that still work, and fresh and funny enough to keep you grinning long after it’s finished.


Jessica Niles and Charlie Bowyer