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Review: Sleeping Beauty

Don't touch the spinning wheel, Princess Belle! Oops too late. Read my review of Coventry Belgrade Theatre's festive show starring writer and director Iain Lauchlan in his 24th panto.

Melissa Brown-Taylor as Princess Belle. Production photos by Robert Day

Every Christmas Iain Lauchlan cleverly tunes into current trends and adds them to the mix creating the perfect panto formula – with heaps of slapstick, silly songs, sparkling sets and the obligatory ‘slosh’ scene!

Some of this year’s topical highlights are an acerbic Scottish version of virtual assistant Alexa called Morag, a fairy vs courtier birthday cake Bake-Off and a rendition of YouTube hit Baby Shark with four children plucked from the audience.

The sizzling comic chemistry between Lauchlan’s panto dame Nanny McWheeze and Craig Hollingsworth’s Muddles the Jester is always central. Their funniest scene is a visual gag involving a ballet routine and a balloon, followed closely by a cast sing-along, If I Was Not in Pantomime.

Dynamic duo: Iain-Lauchlan and Craig-Hollingsworth as Nanny-McWheeze and Muddles

Muddles first arrives on stage on a hoverboard in Converse sneakers; while Nanny McWheeze travels down from her native Scotland to help look after baby Belle dressed in a lovely lampshade-style Tartan skirt with bagpipes sticking out of the back, coordinating Dr. Martens and a Mary-Poppins style bag.  ‘Morag’ is pulled out of her bag to offer advice and dressed up as a mannequin. At one point Muddles is left holding the baby. Encouraging the audience to join in singing ‘Shut your Face’ to the crying infant – well, doll – didn’t feel quite right…(anyone see BBC 1’s The Cry recently?).

Och Aye It Is: Iain-Lauchlan as Dame Nanny McWheeze

This year’s slapstick splosh scene involves icing the birthday cake for Princess Belle’s 18th birthday with a member of the audience. ‘I’m no Nadia Hussain’ says Nanny McWheeze, as she asks Morag for advice on how to decorate a cake. ‘Why would you want to do that when you can buy a ready-made one from Greggs or Marks and Spencer?’ replies Morag sarcastically. Her instructions get confused with the rules for the Scottish game of curling, thanks to Muddles – and things get a tad messy.

Laura Judge’s Carabosse spreads out her wings on stage casting a spell on Melissa Brown-Taylor’s Princess-Belle

The fairy-tale script includes some sci-fi inspo from Netflix series Stranger Things with Muddles, Nanny McWheeze and Prince Valiant travelling 100 years back to the future through a supernatural time portal to break Carabosse’s enchanted spell and awaken the sleeping princess.

An engaging cast and children’s chorus includes Melissa Brown-Taylor as Princess Belle, who sings Rewrite the Stars from The Greatest Showman; Laura Judge,  as evil fairy Carabosse, Anna Mitcham as good fairy Azurial, with her ensemble of young ‘sparkly sprites’, and Declan Wilson is King Hugo. Prince Valiant in true panto-style is played by a woman, Joanna Thorne, and Vicky Field is Carabosse’s side-kick Grunge. Watch out too for some athletic body-popping by the Chamberlain -Ivano Turco.

Craig Hollingsworth, Iain-Lauchlan and Joanna-Thorne as Muddles, Nanny-McWheeze and Prince-Valiant.

The costumes are as outrageous as ever. In one scene Nanny McWheeze is transformed into a chicken, ‘All the turkeys had sold out’ she says – cue lots of nugget and giblet jokes – and her finale frock is a terrific tiered pastel blue-and-white wedding cake with matching blue wig.

Lauchlan’s career spans more than 40 years in TV and entertainment, best known as the writer of BAFTA-winning series The Tweenies, as well as working on Playschool, Fingermouse, Playdays, Storytime and Fun Song Factory.  He always manages to create an air of anarchy even in the middle of a tightly drilled show.

At press night it felt like the entire city was out in force – children and adults enthusiastically savouring every boo, hiss and ‘it’s behind you’!

A guaranteed festive fun night out free of boy-band veterans, X-Factor runners-up and reality TV drop-outs.

Sleeping Beauty runs at the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry until Saturday January 5. Tel: 024 7655 3055, belgrade

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