dame and jack

Iain Lauchlan as Dame Trott and Craig Hollingsworth as Simon Trott in a sort of half-baked Bake Off.

 Picture: Chloe Ely

Jack and the Beanstalk - Online

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry

Twenty twenty will be remembered in the histories yet to be written as the year of Covid but it will also be remembered as the year of better than nothing because that is what much of theatre and the arts has become.

So, five stars and more to the Belgrade in Coventry and Iain Lauchlan for producing an online Jack and The Beanstalk; the problem is, to put it bluntly, that panto is a theatrical parasite, it feeds and grows on an audience and without it Lauchlan, and his sidekick Craig Hollingsworth, have their work cut out.

To their credit they manage to produce a decent traditional panto, with the prerequisite number of traditional routines, custard pie slapstick, remarkably silly jokes and that oh so British daftness that panto creates – the only thing missing was the audience. This is the 26th Belgrade panto from Lauchlan incidentally, which is worth a bow on its own.

We had intended to watch with our young grandchildren but lockdowns and Tier threedom put paid to that and they would have loved some of the dafter bits such as Daisy the cow kicking away the bucket, the lemon meringue pie routine and the giant in the fight to the laugh with Jack – you can’t go wrong with giant forks in a giant bum when it comes to amusing kids.

Daisy, by the way, has its own topical joke – the world’s first socially distanced pantomime cow!

The production might be traditional but rather than just televising a theatre performance it embraces the tricks and effects TV offers that theatre cannot match whether it be quick costume changes, sparkling dissolves, instant scene changes or even a giant giant.

And quick changes are necessary when Lauchlan, who wrote and produced the panto, plays Dame Trott along with Fairy Fluff and the giant Giant Blunderbore while Hollingsworth plays Simon Trott and the King, both appearing in the same scene at one point, as well as the baddy Fleshcreep who appears as a sort of demented Richard III tribute act, all great fun.

Also in thigh slapping form as a traditional principal boy is Morna Macpherson as Jack Trott, who has the hots for Princess Alyssa which is the love interest bit while the giant’s wife, Mrs Blunderbore, played by Trish Adudu, proves size means nothing when wives want things doing around the house.

Many a husband will sympathise with the giant and his somewhat stretched and limited DIY skills called upon (more usually ordered) by many a wife during lockdown.  

There are some lovely moments such as when Arina Ii as the Princess has been captured and locked in the giant’s castle by Fleshcreep so launches into her power ballad, much to the consternation of Lauchlan and Hollingsworth who worry about the time it takes in their shortened show. So, Hollinsworth explains how it is television and how the song can be edited out without anyone noticing – and, to be fair, the cut is as seamless as, say, a patchwork quilt.

There is a good ensemble with the essential children and a constant feelgood factor. Everything you might expect from a panto is there and it is good clean family fun with nothing to frighten maiden aunts or elicit difficult questions from inquisitive youngsters. If there was a fault, I felt the jokes were a bit Covid heavy. Panto has always worked in jokes about local areas and topical events, but it is also about escapism . . . but perhaps that is just me.

There is a clever start and end in the deserted Belgrade auditorium to top and tail what has been a strange year and in between there is a panto you can view as a family at any time, or even three families during the Christmas break, until the end of the year all for £16 or so. It has enough silly bits for youngsters and keeps the panto tradition alive, and that, as we said at the start, is, in this particular case, infinitely better than nothing. Directed by Paul Gibson it runs to 31-12-20.

Roger Clarke

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