Tag Archives: Iain Lauchlan

Magic and Mess make for success

CINDERELLA

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Friday 1st December, 2017

 

Writer, director and jovial genius Iain Lauchlan is back at the Belgrade for another triumphant year with a winning pantomime that blends traditional with new elements.

Oddly, it gets off to something of an underwhelming start, with Fairy Godmother (Maggie Robson) springing on and giving us some sub-Disney waffle about dreams.  What, no rhyming couplets?  She introduces us to our heroine straight away – a winsome Alice Rose Fletcher, looking every inch the part and with a sweet singing voice.  This is a Cinderella we can take to right away, but her song is somewhat wistful and reflective, and not really an opening number.  Energy levels crank up when the chorus of villagers pour on – and we’re off at last!

The ugly sisters, Dyspepsia (Lauchlan in his element, it appears) and Listeria ( an equally excellent Greg Powrie) are a superb double act.  Ostensibly the villains, they are too enjoyable to be bad.  The crux of villainy in this version is found in Cinderella’s stepmother (Maggie Robson, doubling, and having more to get her teeth into), a delightful snarling diva.

Adding to the fun – shovelling it on – is Craig Hollingsworth as Buttons.  A natural crowd-pleaser, Hollingsworth is a cheeky chappie, a quick wit with impeccable timing.  His scenes with the sisters are the comic highlights of the show.  An extended slosh scene involving waxing strips and fake tanning equipment is relentlessly funny in an old-school way.  Slapstick still works.

An iconic scene we don’t get is Buttons trying to cheer up Cinderella when she can’t go to the ball.  Cut because of running times, I suspect, but Hollingsworth gives us hints of the pathos that is an essential part of the Buttons character.

In this performance, a charming Vicky Field plays Prince Charming – Lauchlan gives us two principal boys to balance the two dames – and Letitia Hector gives us an elegant and full-throated Dandini.  In panto, no one bats an eyelid about cross-dressing and gender and blind casting.  Everyone is accepted.  Any joshing is good-natured.

From the chorus there is strong support from Lashane Williams and Vicki Stevenson in several featured moments, but undoubtedly this is the Ugly Sisters & Buttons show, and we don’t mind that at all.

There are moments of wonder – the transformation scene is straightforward in its execution but still works its magic on the children – plenty of audience participation, with some individuals being ‘volunteered’ to prove themselves good sports – and the time-honoured story still comes through.  There is something about Cinderella that strikes a chord with everyone: the worthy underdog whisked away from servitude; but it’s more than a lottery win.  Cinderella’s generosity of spirit is what sees her through.

One final point: I look around the stalls and from what I can see, the people of Coventry have turned out from all corners.  It’s quite simply the most diverse audience I’ve seen at a pantomime.  And everyone’s enjoying this peculiarly British tradition and having a great night at the theatre, and I think this is the kind of Britain I want to live in.  Inclusive, good-natured and friendly.  Well done, the Belgrade!

Greg Powrie, Iain Lauchlan and Craig Hollingsworth in Cinderella - Credit Robert Day (2)

Greg Powrie, Iain Lauchlan and Craig Hollingsworth messing about (Photo: Robert Day)

 

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Dick Leads The Way

DICK WHITTINGTON

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.

matthew-brock-as-scratch-melone-mkenzy-as-queen-rat-and-eden-dominque-as-sniff-credit-robert-day

Rat pack: Matthew Brock, Melone M’Kenzy and Eden Dominique (Photo: Robert Day)


Rubbing Along Nicely

ALADDIN

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Friday 5th December, 2014

 

The Belgrade’s pantomime this year is that curious mix of Arabian Nights and a China that never was, the rags to riches story of Aladdin.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen a principal boy take the title role – of late it has been the preserve of male soap stars and pop singers, so it is refreshing to see the traditional cross-dressing reinstated. Here, Morna Macpherson is a spirited lead and a likeable hero. As Aladdin’s brother, the lovable buffoon Wishee Washee, Craig Hollingsworth provides the bulk of the comic energy, teaming up with his mother, the flamboyant Widow Twankey – a text book panto dame performance from writer/director Iain Lauchlan.

From the moment the curtain goes up, the stage is a riot of colour, thanks to Cleo Pettitt’s bright costumes with their storybook-Oriental touches.  One quibble I have with the opening, is I’d like the audience participation to kick in earlier.  We need to be addressed and invited in.  Characters need to tell us what’s going on, rather than talking to each other.  But as soon as Wishee Washee comes on, we are well up for it.

Walking on Sunshine is the opening number and Happy is the finale; these two well-known and sing-alongable songs sandwich some unremarkable numbers which, though sung very well, don’t linger in the memory.  As I say, it’s all sung very well – you can’t fault any aspect of the performances but the choice of songs lets it down somewhat.

Overlooking that, this is a traditional, old-school pantomime and oodles of fun for people of all ages.

Arina Li is a beautiful Princess Jasmine (since the Disney cartoon, we shall never again see a Princess Beldroubadour!) with effective support from Joanne Sandi as So-Shi and also the Spirit of the Ring – bringing comedy to the former and an exotic grace to the latter.  Marcquelle Ward is a hunk of a Genie of the Lamp and Aaron Gibson makes a strong impression as a nimble and expressive palace guard.

Relishing his role as Abanazar, Sion Lloyd is delightfully wicked in that way that only panto villains have.  He’s so good at it, you almost want his evil schemes to succeed.

When it comes to William Finkenrath’s Chinese Emperor, complete with comedy accent, I don’t know whether to laugh or be uncomfortable.  In the end, I do both.  It’s a sustained comic performance and undeniably funny but the hackles of my political correctness tell me I shouldn’t be laughing.  But, if we go down that route, we’d no longer have names like Wishee Washee, and the whole thing would unravel.  Finkenrath wins me over by the force of his wit.

With spectacle, slapstick and silliness, the Belgrade’s Aladdin proves you don’t need a host of Big (and Not-so-big) Names to make as enjoyable a pantomime as you could wish for.

Arina Li and William Finkelrath (Photo: Robert Day)

Arina Li and William Finkelrath (Photo: Robert Day)