Cats are everywhere this Christmas! We head to the Belgrade for some festive feline fun in Puss in Boots. Is it the saucer of cream we were hoping for – or more like UHT semi-skimmed?
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Cats is about to grace the big screen and following on from the 2011 animated film version of Puss in Boots, with Antonio Banderas as the heavily accented cat, The Belgrade this year stages its own seasonal panto adaptation.
The chances are you won’t be that familiar with the story – it hasn’t been performed at the Belgrade since 1991. This lesser known ‘fairy story’ can be traced back to a tale by a 16th century Italian writer Giovanni Straparola and has been updated to the more parochial English village setting of ‘Baggy Bottom on the Bog’!
It’s here that a miller’s widow and son are soon to be evicted from the family mill by a nasty ogre in the form of a snake and his jester-like villain accomplice, Victor Grabitt, who want to rent it out on Airbnb.
Multi-tasking panto star Iain Lauchlan – also the writer and director – returns as miller’s widow Dame Matilda Pudding and sidekick, Craig Hollingsworth, as son Simon. Amusingly Simon’s shown on a giant mobile phone via ‘Facetime’ making his way through Coventry – via Maccy D’s – to the theatre before making a grand entrance into the auditorium.
Simon Pudding has other ambitions. “The worst thing about being a miller?” he quips “It grinds you down.” Instead he wants to be an ‘Instafamous’ rapper aka Baggy B “with a triple e” and asks the audience to follow his Instagram account in the interval.
Aimee Bevan’s Fairy Flutterby transforms the mill cat into Joanna Thorne’s swashbuckling kitty with fancy footwear to save the day. An evolving romance between Simon and free-thinking Princess Sophia is met with incredulity by his mother. In footballing terms he’s the Nuneaton Borough to her Manchester United.
We may have come adrift from Straparola’s moorings by this point but Lauchlan relishes in breaking with tradition. What Puss in Boots lacks in conformity, it makes up for in panto glee, ad-libs and audience-interaction.
The annual ‘slosh-scene involves a lethal looking meringue making icing nozzle and a member of the audience. But my favourite scene is when four children aged four to nine are called to the stage as Baggy B’s backing band to help sing his latest rap.
The Belgrade has a proud tradition of excellent pantos and once again the costume department has pulled out all the stops to create a spectacular wardrobe for Dame Matilda Pudding, including a dress in the form of a Christmas pudding, a warrior princess and a wonderful water fountain finale frock.
What else to tell you? Well, the set was simple but vibrant and sparkly (this counts when you’re 10 – ask my daughter) and the supporting cast all sang, danced and acted with heart to the live band.
Puss in Boots runs at the Belgrade Theatre until Sat 11 Jan. Tel: 024 7655 3055, belgrade (prices cheaper online). Running time: two hours 30 minutes.
- If you’ve some spare change at the end, the theatre is collecting cash for up to 150 local families in need to see the show – with referrals made through Coventry Foodbank and other charities – through its Making Memories campaign.