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Muddy’s online panto review: Jack and the Beanstalk

Curl up on the sofa with a Baileys or under your duvet (as I did) to watch the Belgrade Theatre's fantastic first studio-shot online panto.

DOUBLE-ACT: (Left) Iain Lauchlan as Dame Trott and Craig Hollingsworth playing Simon Trott. Production photos by Chloe Ely Photography

Need of bit of a giggle to put you in a festive mood? I think we all do.

It’s been nine months since Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre was last fully open but on December 1 it was curtains up for the company’s hugely popular annual Christmas panto – online.

Devised and filmed in Banbury for digital streaming, Jack and the Beanstalk was made with a much smaller cast and is as colourful, glittery and kitsch as ever – thanks to a successful bid of just under £1m from the government’s Cultural Recovery Fund.

But it’s not the big all-singing and dancing production originally planned for 2020 – Beauty and the Beast was postponed earlier in the pandemic to much shared disappointment which is why writer, producer and actor Iain Lauchlan decided to make this film.

Opening night is usually a noisy affair, rammed to the rafters, fizzing with excitement and eager-anticipation then awash with loud enthusiastic audience participation.

In sheer contrast, the Belgrade’s first digital panto starts with Iain and comedy sidekick Craig Hollingsworth as themselves, out of costume, sitting on the main stage looking out onto an eerily empty auditorium.

As Coventry and Warwickshire enter Tier 3 and many UK theatres look set to remain closed this Christmas, it really hits home that this is going to be their first Christmas not performing a panto season in “forever” – as well all the staff working behind-the-scenes.

Coventry is very lucky to have former BBC children’s TV presenter Iain at the helm. This is his 26th Belgrade panto. The creator of BAFA-winning CBeebies kids show The Tweenies also pens Imagine Theatre’s show for pre-schoolers, Santa’s Christmas Rescue, opening later this month at the Belgrade.

His warm, razor-sharp scripts always reflect the year’s most topical events, with lots of mickey-taking between the two main leads. So, there’s plenty of comic Covid banter, PPE puns and R number references, plus high-tech “whizzy bits” to keep all the family amused.

Set in the village of Prickly bottom – hit by Covid 17-and-three-quarters – Jack vows to rescue a stolen harp from a giant in the clouds to keep residents safe. Despite the reduced cast they’ve managed to squeeze in choreographed musical numbers, a messy meringue-making slosh scene and humorously edited out ‘the power ballad’.

Slosh scene
Junior Chorus

By the end you’ll be joining in with the catchy 12 Days of Lockdown – “Four squirts of hand-gel, five toilet rolls, six home-deliveries…etc”

The two multi-tasking leads take on three roles. Iain is Jack’s mother Dame Trott, super-NHS Fairy Fluff and an Hagrid-inspired giant.

Iain as Dame Trott
Iain as Super NHS Fairy Fluff
Guess who’s the giant

And Craig  steps up as Jack’s brother Simon Trott, the king and villain Fleshcreep – a cross between Noel Fielding and the Child-catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

They’re joined by Morna Macpherson as a thigh-slapping Jack, Arina Li as Princess Alyssa, and BBC Coventry and Warwickshire Radio’s Trish Adudu has a special cameo as Giant Blunderbore’s wife.

TRAPPED! Princess Alyssa

An ensemble led by Ayden Morgan – who also doubles up as a 2m long socially-distanced Daisy the Cow – and a junior chorus of eight complete the cast. The backstage team and film crew deserve a shout out too – especially for Dame Trott’s inventive and over-the-top costumes.

Once you’ve booked your ticket it’s easy to log on and the broadcast quality is so good it feels like you have the best seat in the house. This new panto been neatly wrapped up into a 1-hour 12 minute digital package for your Christmas viewing pleasure. Sit back in the comfort of your home, clap, laugh and enjoy the riotous fun.

THE END: Cast and crew of Jack and the Beanstalk Online

Jack and the Beanstalk Online will be available to stream at home from Dec 1-31 and Santa’s Christmas Rescue will run from Dec 17-24. Book here.

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