Writer and Director: Iain Lauchlan
The very fact that a grumpy teenager who would usually rather be playing computer games was so excited about heading back to the Belgrade Theatre for this year’s pantomime is testament to the reputation Iain Lauchlan and Craig Hollingsworth have created over the years. Jack and the Beanstalk is this year’s offering and it is clear from the faces of those waiting in the foyer that this is a yearly highlight for many.
As the curtain goes up, Lauchlan and Hollingsworth quickly resume their familiar banter. Despite the audience veterans at times being able to say their lines for them, they perform as though every word is fresh and with an energy that never seems to cease (even when tested to the max by some very persistent hecklers!). With old jokes, new jokes, topical inclusions and many barrels of laughs between them, the double act feed off one another like they’ve never been away. Lauchlan’s outfits are always a treat but this year they are truly magnificent and stretch the Jack and the Beanstalk theme to a whole other level.
Despite the dazzling duo, well, dazzling, there is another who stands out from the dark depths this year. It’s not often the token baddie of the panto steals the show (or even gets more than a line of mention), but from the minute this year’s villain, Fleshcreep, takes the stage his character does exactly that. A furious flick through the program at the interval reveals actor Andy Hockley’s impressive resume and it’s easy to see why his flawless performance diverts so much of our attention. Managing a perfect balance of charm and menacing, his seemingly endless repertoire of mannerisms entices us in and leaves us begging for more each time he is on stage. Hockley’s rapport with each and every member of the cast shows we have a true professional at work and he is a delight to witness.
No stranger to the Belgrade panto, David Gilbrook slips right back into his usual father figure as King Kevin, Morna Macpherson gives a strong performance as Jack and Rochelle Hollis complements her well providing a sassy and confident Princess Poppy with a great singing voice to boot. Emma Mulkern struggles a little vocally with some of her more powerful numbers, however, her acting strengths and rapport with her fellow cast members allow this to be forgiven. The set design is as glittery as ever, with some very big surprises thrown in in terms of effects, and the production mostly slides together nicely. There are a few miscued effects and some muffed lines – albeit taken with very good humour – but these are easily forgotten as the traditional Belgrade atmosphere shines through.
Unlike many pantomimes around the country, the Belgrade Theatre’s doesn’t rely on the big named celebrity face to sell tickets. Instead, it makes no apologies for lack of perfection, serves up familiar local legends and promises good honest fun. Selling tickets might be a little harder this year with cost-of-living pinching pockets, however, if you have just one treat, make Jack and the Beanstalk it. With groan-worthy gags, tik-tok fame, impressive visual displays and cracking acting, this year’s giant offering will not disappoint.
Runs Until 7 January 2023