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REVIEW: Over The Top

Nick Walker's highly amusing *pun*-packed alternative panto about suffragettes and First World War problems is a sure-fire hit! Catch it at Coventry's Belgrade Theatre in B2 until Sat Dec 29.

Aimee Powell as Ashwell and Lara Tipper as General Sidebottom. Production photos by Robert Day

‘Ooh that was a big one!’ exclaims ukulele-playing Sergeant Bell. Saucy, you’re thinking. But in fact, a very loud bomb has just exploded.

Jokes and innuendo are certainly not rationed in this year’s alternative adult panto at the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry – they’re fired quick and fast at such a pace that you’ll need your wits about you to keep up!

This is a slick one-hour Christmas comedy combining the 100th anniversary of the suffragettes and the end of the First World War. Performed by a fantastic, energetic all-female cast of four – Laura Tipper, Aimee Powell, Kimisha Lewis and Miriam Grace Edwards – it has a surprisingly poignant ending that left some members of the audience in tears.

Aimee Powell and Miriam Grace Edwards

Set in Coventry Music Hall and the fields of Harfleur during 1917, it follows the escapades of three intrepid soldiers turned music hall performers. They’re called back to duty on a secret mission to rescue the Actresses Franchise League – a group of suffragettes – stuck behind enemy league on their way to entertain the troupes.

The same story is told three times through each performer’s eyes with various twists-and-turns as they make their way to France and the Front line. I particularly like the low budget aeroplane and exploding bomb on a plate scene in a French cafe.

Laura Tipper, Miriam Grace Edwards and Kimisha Lewis

Gifted writer Nick Walker doesn’t hold back on the ‘groan-worthy gags and eye-rolling puns’ particularly relating to Christmas and in-jokes about Coventry. The soldiers are sent on Operation Tile Hill (a city suburb) – “It was dirty, dangerous and quite near Canley”…A pigeon delivers some bad news. “He says there’s going to be a coo,” says Ashwell (coup – geddit?). A spy has infiltrated the War Office and could potentially sabotage the mission: “Could that be a mince-spy?” asks Ashwell. I could go on, but you get the idea…

The cheesiest gag – “I cam-em-ber-it” and best Christmas one-liner: “As Adam said in the Bible: ‘Cheer up it’s Christmas, Eve’,”.

Miriam Grace Edwards, Aimee Powell and Kimisha Lewis

It’s wittily directed in the style of a silent film by Coventry actor Katy Stevens, who wasn’t able to make press night as she was on stage herself as Agrippa in The National’s live cinema broadcast of Antony and Cleopatra with Ralph Fiennes and Sophie Okonedo. She sent a personal message of good luck to the cast recorded in person by Ralph Fiennes on WhatsApp! How awesome is that?

Fresh, funny, festive and feminist – at only 60-minutes you can even fit in a show in between cocktails and your Christmas girls’ night out!

Over the Top runs at B2 Studio, Belgrade Theatre, Coventry until Sat Dec 29. Tel the box office on 024 7655 3055, belgrade.co.uk (tickets are even cheaper online).

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