Writer and Director: Iain Lauchlan
Reviewer: Nicole Craft
It’s been a mere six years since Sleeping Beauty last pricked her finger on Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre stage and, by writer and director Iain Lauchlan’s own admission, keeping things different enough to continuing winning a regular, local audience over can be tricky. Nobody has any reason to question whether this year’s efforts will be enough, however, as this production ticks every single pantomime box you could possibly think of.
Pantomimes always have a boatload of glitter but Terry Parsons’ set and costume design seems to add an extra bit of something this year that we can’t quite put our fingers on. A sparkling curtain to admire awaits us as we take our seats and Christmas songs even get us feeling, dare we say it, slightly festive.
Anna Mitcham is first to grace the stage as Good Fairy Azurial and captures attentions immediately with her ‘perky’ persona. Channelling her inner Kristin Chenoweth, her slick and sassy performance is both charming and graceful throughout as she casts her magic over the palace-folk. Following close behind Azurial are her young ensemble Fairies, who are equally as glamorous and polished and complement Mitcham perfectly. The insertion of some good-old childhood attitude and Fortnite references from the get-go is an obvious hit with the crowd and the four continue to impress in their later scenes.
Laura Judge makes for a convincingly evil, yet not too scary, bad Fairy Carabosse and appears to delight in earning every one of her boos as she fights against Azurial in trying to curse the Princess and ruin the lives of the royals. Her menacing, although yet again not too sinister, sidekick Grunge (Vicky Field), however, completely outshines her – and not because Judge can be in any way faulted. Field is simply magnificent in every aspect and it’s no surprise to read of her dance history after watching her strut her stuff with such confidence.
Despite the fact the story is tight and the rest of the cast give it absolutely everything, the nature of the show is almost superfluous with the majority of the Coventry crowd attending year in, year out to see Craig Hollingsworth and Lauchlan’s comedy double-act. Having occasionally overstepped the mark on what could be deemed family friendliness with jokes in previous years, it was a joy to see them bouncing off each other with evident glee and providing just the right amount of ‘adult’ to raise a smirk from the grown-ups while still amusing very unaware children. The slosh scene is the best yet and the interactions with ‘Morag’ are pure genius.
Hollingsworth’s entrance alone is memorable as he crashes backstage on a hoverboard and then gives us some Baby Shark themed impressions of famous comedians, and his confidence in his much-loved ‘stupid person’ role evidently continues to grow. Lauchlan’s entrance is equally amusing as he crashes into the palace dressed as bagpipes and he gets straight in there with his trademark cheesy jokes and general daftness. The pair completely nail their rapport and there’s barely a few minutes that go by without whole-auditorium laughter filling the air – the If I Was Not in Pantomime routine standing out as one of the funniest this reviewer (and family) has ever seen.
This production of Sleeping Beauty is just perfect. A staggeringly good balance of straight vs silly, superb acting, amazing rapport between the whole cast – glitter, glamour, humour, catchy songs, angelic goodies and boo-some baddies; it really does have everything. Lauchlan has not only managed to create an outstanding pantomime provoking genuine belly-laughs that audiences will remember for years to come, he’s done so while retaining that Belgrade panto signature charm we’ve all come to know and love. Hats (wigs, bagpipes, chickens, cakes etc) off.
Runs Until 5 January 2019 | Image: Robert Day