BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Friday 26th November 2021
Forget the Coca-Cola trucks! You know when Christmas is definitely coming when the Belgrade opens its pantomime.
Back again for the umpteenth year are writer-director-dame Iain Lauchlan and his partner in crime, Craig Hollingsworth. Separately and as a double act, these two embody the spirit of panto in Coventry, and it’s an absolute treat to see them back live on stage.
Appearing as Dame Dolly Mixture, Lauchlan is tirelessly funny, sporting a range of outfits based on sweets and chocolates, each one a delightful confection. Lauchlan’s dame always has a twinkle in her eye and something saucy to say. Paired with Hollingsworth’s Silly Billy, this is a dream team, bringing all the well-worn, well-loved and well funny panto elements to the stage, including a mandatory slosh scene involving mops, and the traditional word play, audience engagement…Lauclan’s script fizzles with jokes old and new. Clearly, Hollingsworth is in his element, getting annoyed with the audience and complaining about being made to look silly. A fast-paced song about alternative career paths for the cast is an hilarious highlight.
Another joy to watch is Peter Watts as bombastic narcissist Maurice, in a larger-than-life performance that comes close to stealing the show. He is teamed with sidekick Grub, played by the excellent Miriam Grace Edwards—it’s great to see her return to the Belgrade stage.
Katy Anna Southgate’s Enchantress is a striking figure in a beautiful purple gown; it’s a pity we don’t get to hear her sing until the finale.
The panto fun is interspersed with the darker plot line of the fairy tale. It begins with a Prince (Samuel Lake) being beastly to a peasant (Louie Wood). As punishment for his lack of compassion, the Enchantress turns the Prince into a hideous beast for five hundred years. The Beast is played with gusto by Sion Lloyd, whose scary speaking voice is offset by his beautiful, powerful singing. Ruby Eva’s Beauty is as pretty and sweet as you’d expect, while David Gilbrook as her bewildered father Harold dodders around endearingly. But, let’s face it, you don’t go to the panto for the plot! The tonal gear change between anarchic silliness and emotional drama is sometimes too sharp. It’s almost as though we’re switching between two different shows.
Somehow, Lauchlan manages to marry all the elements to bring the story to its happy ending, complete with a rousing rendition of S Club 7’s Reach For The Stars, which you’ll be singing all the way home.
On the whole, it’s a joyous experience and production values are high, courtesy of the Belgrade’s in-house workshop, from the glow-in-the-dark dancing skeletons to the lavish costumes and fairytale scenery.
A feast of festive family fun.