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.
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 as Puss in Boots and Peter Watts as Grabitt (Photo: Robert Day)
Leave a comment | tags: Aimee Bevan, Belgrade Theatre Coventry, Craig Hollingsworth, Daniel Teague, David Gilbrook, Dylan Jones, Iain Lauchlan, Jenny Phillips, Joanna Thorne, Miriam Grace Edwards, pantomime, Peter Watts, Puss in Boots, review | posted in pantomime, Review, Theatre Review
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