Writer & Director: Iain Lauchlan
With last year’s Belgrade Theatre pantomime being enjoyed digitally from a rather cosy private box (aka – the dining room!), it was with slightly tearful trepidation this family ventured back to the bustling auditorium for this year’s Beauty and the Beast. It would be all too easy to put faux pas down to rustiness and forgive flaws because it was simply nice to be back. Thankfully there is genuinely no need to, with Writer/Director Iain Lauchlan clearly going the extra mile to make this year stand out and remind us just how good a panto he puts on.
As Lauchlan’s familiar and very much missed Scottish ‘helloooooo’ rings out, and Craig Hollingsworth bounds onto the stage to introduce us to this year’s fool, Silly Billy, we settle down fully ready to immerse ourselves into the beastly world of Beauty and her charming village, Middle Widdle on the Piddle. We soon meet the rest of the villagers, and the story is told of a prince who was cursed by an enchantress and condemned to live his life as a beast, at least until he found himself capable of love and compassion. Cue the quest to find the beast and… well you probably already know the rest.
Lauchlan and Hollingsworth, the latter celebrating his 10th year at The Belgrade, get straight down to business being the daft double act we have come to know so well; the early sweet-shop scene providing the first of many memorable moments of the evening. We soon meet Beauty (Ruby Eva), her admirer, Maurice (Peter Watts), and his admirer and long-suffering servant, Grub (Miriam Grace Edwards), the three of whom impress from beginning to end. Eva, with arguably the least interesting part to play, stuns with her charm and vocal performances, while Watts plays the smarmy, cocky Maurice with the sassiest swagger seen on the Belgrade’s stage yet and is simply captivating throughout – not least in his ‘soapier’ scenes. Watts is only outdone by the genius that is Edwards; evidently blessed with a great scripted part, she takes it by the horns and runs with all the speed she can muster to make it her own and is nothing short of perfect. Even the staging seems to be packing an extra punch with glitter and glamour complementing backdrops and props perfectly.
Sadly, the production isn’t entirely without its flaws and unfortunately, these do detract from the overall sharpness of the rest of the show (although some of these may get ironed out as the run goes on). Some technical issues led to the prince’s transformation to beast not being fully visible and a couple of songs are pitched far higher than the capabilities of the cast. However, even with any notion of the aforementioned ‘good to be back’ excuses aside, the rest really does make up for it.
Overall, Beauty and the Beast does not disappoint. With Coventry’s best-loved double act on fine form, stellar cast performances, stunning scenery, and a rendition of If I Were Not in Pantomime to make even the sternest of demeanours break into belly laughs, there’s not a single reason not to be their guest this year.
Runs until 8 January 2022