JACK AND THE BEANSTALK
Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Friday 25th November, 2022
The first pantomime of the season and it’s a favourite fixture of mine, the Belgrade’s annual extravaganza featuring the perennial pairing of Iain Lauchlan and Craig Hollingsworth. Returning for the umpteenth year, writer/director and dame extraordinaire, Lauchlan delivers the goods once again with a blend of traditional and innovative elements. He is also generous enough not to hog all the best/worst jokes to himself.
Appearing as Dame Trott in a range of garish and hilarious outfits, Lauchlan embodies the panto spirit, with good-natured fun and broad comedy. Forming a perfect foil is Craig Hollingsworth’s Simple Simon, a somewhat manic man-child. Hollingsworth delivers a masterclass in how to handle and involve the audience, and it’s an absolute joy to see these two working together again.
Morna Macpherson is a thigh-slappingly heroic Jack. It strikes me that pantomime, with its dames and principal boys, has been years ahead in terms of using pronouns according to how people present themselves to the world. The kids in the audience take the characters at face value, which is how it should be. Macpherson’s macho posturing is in keeping with the genre, rather than being a parody. Rochelle Hollis plays the object of Jack’s affection, the Princess Poppy, doing a good job with a thankless part.
Emma Mulkern’s Fairy Fennel is good value, while Andy Hockley’s Fleshcreep is delightfully wicked, in a Dickensian manner. Hockley is clearly having a lot of fun, donning a range of disguises that we see through right away. David Gilbrook’s attention-deficient King adds to the fairy tale setting.
There is much of what we expect: a slapstick scene involving lemon meringues and oversized syringes, a bit of music hall patter, and plenty of audience participation. Always one to include new ideas with the old, Lauchlan’s beanstalk is the most innovatively staged I’ve ever seen. The giant also impresses and is worth waiting for, but it’s Daisy the Cow who upstages everyone (played by dancers Lewis James and Hudson Tong). I also love the troupe of cockroaches that infests the giant’s castle; they have some nifty choreography courtesy of Jenny Phillips.
The laughs keep coming and the plot chugs on despite all the shenanigans. The first half does run rather long, proving a strain on young bladders, and having to sing a verse about a chip shop every time Simple Simon walks on gets a bit wearing very soon. But these shortcomings don’t amount to a hill of beans.
Bright and colourful with almost everything covered in glitter, this is a hugely enjoyable, highly silly production with enough to keep everyone entertained.
Colour me cheered up, good and proper.
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Don’t have a cow! Craig Hollingsworth, Daisy, and Iain Lauchlan (Photo: Nicola Young)