Director: Corey Campbell
The more traditional Belgrade Theatre ‘anti-panto’ offerings have been somewhat hit and miss over the last few years. Alcohol seemed a must to find the continuous streams of puns even remotely funny and it was never clear whether acting or direction was truly at fault for the failings of what remained. With, new to the Belgrade as part of their City of Culture initiatives, Corey Campbell in position as both leading man and also director of this year’s alternative show, the firing line for the transformation of the Belgrade’s studio theatre space into Club 2B was firmly aimed by many.
A slow start beckons as we take our seats around cabaret tables for eight and are encouraged to socialise with the strangers we have been seated with. Snack plates of very tasty cooked nibbles (which are included as part of the evening’s experience) slowly make their way around the auditorium and, although small-talk flows well, a band set-up remains empty and the lack of any real action is all-too noticeable for almost the whole of the first hour.
As the story – a clever and loose retelling of Zeus and Hera’s search for happiness via godly embodiments of historical figures such as Lady Godiva and Marilyn Monroe – does start to unfold we soon realise we are in for a treat and, as the evening goes on, the party really starts and the initial lack of pace is forgotten. The rear of the room certainly has the advantage here though, with audience members on the tables at the very front finding themselves craning their necks and constantly having to change direction to keep track of the action, something removing a few seats would easily solve.
Campbell, as the god Zeus, clearly laps up every moment of this venture and this shines through in his performance while his character engages with the audience and seeks his love, Hera (Iona Coburn). Coburn makes for an understated Hera; furious when she needs to be but soft and gentle for the most part with some lovely vocal performances. Meg Forgan, Aimee Powell, Charis McRoberts and Katy Anna-Southgate make up the rest of the cast and their collective rapport holds the narrative together brilliantly. Forgan is particularly strong as Marilyn, oozing confidence and with the voice to boot, she effortlessly captures the attention of all during the longest musical section of the evening. All actors also take posts manning the various casino tables at points throughout the evening and expertly weave doing so into their character’s narrative, often switching between at a moment’s notice.
All in all, it’s extremely difficult to dislike Club 2B. The concept is fun and certainly follows through on its promise of something different, the acting is top-notch, the singing is stunning, the band incredibly talented and the added bonus of nibbles, a bar and ‘gambling’ tables (chips are provided) as part of the immersive experience turns an ordinary festive theatre trip into a full-on evening out. Some jigging around of seating arrangements and a tweak to the first hour would make this a five-star festive treat; although even with its docked star, don your glad rags and get on down as you still won’t want to miss it!
Runs until 31 December 2019 | Image: Robert Day