26th Jan, 2022

REVIEW: Jack and the Beanstalk Online, Belgrade Theatre, Coventry until Dec 31

Catherine Vonledebur 9th Dec, 2020 Updated: 9th Dec, 2020

IS panto cancelled this year? Oh no it isn’t!

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 first studio-shot online 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 save the day and make this film.

Opening night is usually a noisy affair, rammed to the rafters, full of excitement and eager-anticipation and lots of 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 on December 19.

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 have managed to squeeze in choreographed musical numbers, a messy meringue-making slosh scene and humorously edited out ‘the power ballad’.

By the end you’ll be joining in with the catchy ’12 Days of Lockdown’ song – “Four squirts of hand-gel, five toilet rolls, six home-deliveries, seven months of furlough, eight Joe Wicks workouts…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.

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.

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.

Jack and the Beanstalk Online will be available to stream at home until Dec 31 and Santa’s Christmas Rescue will run from Dec 19-24. Book here: belgrade

You can join in a Panto Day tweet-along with the cast and company recreating the fun of a live show and hear all the backstage gossip at 6.30pm on Friday December 18 to celebrate Panto Day 2020. Watch the online show and use the hashtags #JackOnline and #PantoDay so they can see them.

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