Writer: Iain Lauchlan
Directors: Iain Lauchlan and Paul Gibson
Reviewer: Nicole Evans
The Coventry Belgrade Theatre pantomime is set aside from its regional rivals by the distinct lack of soap stars and the likes in the role of dames attempting to rekindle their careers. Despite not having the pull of a famous face on the posters, Iain Lauchlan’s traditional yearly offering never fails to attract the crowds, and this year’s Dick Whittington is no exception, with local folk flocking in their masses to see what fun and frolics Lauchlan and his team have to offer.
With the elaborately decorated curtain glittering away as we take our seats, and the orchestra warming up to the background music of some well-known Christmas songs, excitement is already building among audience members, old and young alike. Lauchlan’s tell-tale Scottish-accented ‘hellloooooo’ is greeted by a roaring audience response, emphasising the fact that patrons return to The Belgrade year after year as part of their seasonal traditions.
The show gets underway as we meet Fairy Bow Bells, a charming cockney Principal Fairy played by Anna Mitcham. Mitcham captures our interest from the get-go with her confident and sassy performance and elegantly sparkling costume and is the most delightful Fairy to have taken to the Belgrade’s stage in years. Her rival, Queen Rat, or Queen Prat as Bow Bells as refers to her, is equally as memorable and Melone M’Kenzy perfects the balance of terrifying and terrific as the pair bounce insults off one another in their quests to steer the story in their respective good vs evil directions. As the story continues we meet Dick Whittington, who travels to London to find his fortune, and unbeknown to him, is followed on his quest by his loyal rat-catching cat, Tommy. Ingeniously prancing out of the shadows to Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats in a black-and-white outfit that may well have been swiped from the Cats wardrobe, Becky Stone is worthy of a role in the musical itself and her unfaltering feline mannerisms leave the audience endeared throughout.
Lauchlan is once again co-starred by Craig Hollingsworth, taking on the role of Idle Jack who succeeds in getting the audience well involved with the show, not least by the introduction of ‘Poke-a-rat Go’ with which turns into a game resembling auditorium dodge-ball. With the expected inclusion of the slippery scene and the vast array of creative and eccentric dame outfits, the pair offers everything we expect and more and shine together in their collaborative performance, drawing on their now five-year-long working relationship to ensure the jokes and antics flow smoothly.
The only disappointment of the evening is the omission of the much-loved comedic take on The Twelve Days of Christmas, which seems to have been replaced with more in the way of embarrassing an unsuspecting theatre-goer, an odd decision given it is always a popular addition and provides the needed festive feel. The gags also seem to have been scaled down, which, although in some respects is a welcome change from the tendency to take them too far on occasion and ensures it remains a family offering, slightly tips the balance in the opposite direction and leaves us feeling it could have been funnier. That being said, it hits the spot as a truly traditional and entraining pantomime, with no expense spared on costumes and the cast, young and old alike, works together spectacularly on-stage to fuse the many elements of the production together. Worth a watch? Oh yes it is!
Runs until 7 January 2017 | Image: Robert Day