Tag Archives: Jenny Phillips

The Cat’s Pyjamas

PUSS IN BOOTS

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Friday 29th November, 2019

 

This is the first pantomime of the season for me and it’s a cracker.  Belgrade stalwarts Iain Lauchlan and Craig Hollingsworth return for the umpteenth year on the trot for the rarely staged story of a crafty cat who helps his master to social climb his way to the palace, defeating a terrible ogre along the way.  The pair work superbly as a double act, with Lauchlan as the dame, Matilda Pudding, and Hollingsworth as her son, Simon.   They are also superb on their own, with Hollingsworth in particular working the audience.  His persona is cheeky and easily annoyed; the comic timing is impeccable.  Lauchlan gives a masterclass in panto-damery, with a succession of ridiculous outfits, charming humour and an irrepressible sense of fun.  Lauchlan also writes and directs, and is clearly some kind of genius.

Iain Lauchlan (Matilda Pudding) and Craig Hollingsworth (Simon Pudding) - credit Robert Day

The Puddings: Matilda (Iain Lauchlan) and Simon (Craig Hollingsworth) Photo: Robert Day

The rest of the cast, for the most part, rise to the standard of the star pair, given the stock limitations of their roles.  Aimee Bevan warms into her duties as our narrator Fairy Flutterby; David Gilbrook is suitably doddery as good King Colin; and Miriam Grace Edwards makes a gutsy Princess Sophia.  As the villain, evil jester Victor Grabitt, Peter Watts is enormous fun, sinister, snide and camp in the melodramatic sense, he is a joy to watch.

The chorus is fleshed out with a troupe of local children, who tackle Jenny Phillips’s choreography with panache.  Among the grown-up dancers, Dylan Jones distinguishes himself with some spectacular urban moves, as well as an engaging sense of humour.  Daniel Teague appears as the Ogre, in a delightfully scary moment – this show has plenty to engage the children and get them shouting and pointing at the stage.

In the title role, Joanna Thorne is dashingly heroic with a lively touch of comedy.  The role is a blend of principal boy and a skin part, but it also lets girls in the audience that females can be proactive.  Thorne has a strong singing voice – it’s a shame we don’t get to hear more of it.

Lauchlan’s script successfully combines traditional routines with bang up-to-date new elements: we are invited to submit ogre-faced selfies to an Instagram account during the interval; Simon Pudding first appears via face-time… Lauchlan thereby upholds the audience expectations of the form, while keeping the form fresh and current, and of course there is plenty of saucy humour to keep the adults laughing.

Non-stop fun from start to finish, this is a refreshing change from the ‘big’ pantos that always do the rounds (the Aladdins, the Cinderellas, the Dicks) and a fantastic way to get into the festive spirit.  As ever, it’s great to see such a diverse audience at the Belgrade, demonstrating that pantomime truly is for everyone and that theatre can bring us together.

Joanna Thorne (Puss in Boots) and Peter Watts (Victor Grabbit) 2 - credit Robert Day

Joanna Thorne as Puss in Boots and Peter Watts as Grabitt (Photo: Robert Day)

 

 

 


Woke!

SLEEPING BEAUTY

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)


Beautiful and Beastly

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST

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.

beauty

Jessica Niles and Charlie Bowyer