Dick Whittington at the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry – ‘lavishly realised’
Familiar to some as the co-creator of the children’s television show, Tweenies, Iain Lauchlan writes, directs and stars in his 22nd pantomime at the Belgrade Theatre, and it’s clearly a labour of love. However, while frequently entertaining, it too often relies on well-worn tropes and gags.
Returning in the comedy and dame roles, Craig Hollingsworth as Idle Jack and Lauchlan as Sarah the Cook are undoubtedly the best parts of the show. Hollingsworth’s boyish, easy-going demeanour is charming, and together they adeptly manage an elaborate bit of audience participation. As a double act they trade in the comedy of skilful amateurism and are funniest when corpsing, impishly acknowledging the absurdity of the rules of pantomime and, in doing so, forging a connection with the audience.
There are regrettable moments, too; these include cringeworthy references to Donald Trump and Brexit (Queen Rat wants her rat-army to “invade the EU”), but there is also a less innocent problem in one of the early Morocco-set scenes in which two characters wear hula dancers’ costumes – a Polynesian form of dress, not Moroccan. This is lazy and irresponsible exoticisation.
The show boasts high production values, with well-executed sets by Mark Walters, and features a bizarre, spectacular set-piece in which a gigantic, luminous, singing octopus puppet is flown in, while actors dance in lobster costumes. It comes, quite literally, from out of the blue. Aside from this aquatic intervention, however, there is little to mark this production out from standard seasonal fare.