Panto’s back – Oh Yes it is!!! Beauty and the Beast at The Belgrade – review

Beauty and the Beast at the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry is the must see panto experience in the Midlands this winter. Be transported to the town of Middle Widdle on the Piddle (somewhere near to – but not quite Nuneaton) for a few hours of silly fun with Billy, his mum Dolly Mix, alongside Maurice, Grub and of course the stars of the show Beauty and the Beast alongside a dance troupe who perform as gremlin waiters, skeletons and villagers as well as an Olympic mop team!

Bought to the Belgrade by Imagine theatre, a production company run by husband and wife team Steve and Sarah Boden, Beauty and the Beast is a sheer delight for its entire three hours running time. There was so much jam packed in to this performance we have far too many highlights to share but I have to say that we really did have a wonderful experience full of belly laughs – it was obvious just how happy the cast were to be treading the boards once more and this feeling was echoed by the audience in the auditorium.

We visited for a matinee performance: my mom, Arlo and my nephew Logan and each of us had our own favourite moments from the show so I can truly say that there’s something for everyone and it’s a real family friendly panto.

The sets were beautiful with all manner of small details adding to the enchantment of the story. As we entered the theatre the stage was set with the castles on each side and between acts the props and sets changed swiftly to immerse us in to the middle of the action. The same level of attention to detail was apparent in the costumes – and none more so than in the extravagant outfits worn by Dame Dolly Mix, played by Iain Lauchlan, whose mere stage presence had us in fits of giggles. Lots of cheeky innuendos kept the grown ups amused throughout the performance, Logan smirked throughout all the cheeky toilet humour and Arlo kept asking me if the flying saucer fascinator was real.

My mom’s favourite scene of the entire show consisted of Dame Dolly Mix with a fork, alongside Grub with a fish, Billy with a Bucket of water and Maurice with a blonde wig. I can’t even begin to explain what was going on, but we really appreciated the intricacy of the choreography and how challenging this must have been to perform – Arlo’s was sat beside me squealing with laughter as Billy managed to get poked in the bum and slapped with a wet fish! This skit bought the house down and rightly so – brilliant comedic timing!

Arlo’s favourite moment was the scene where the wolves managed to outsmart Billy and his mom – every child was out of their seats exclaiming “he’s behind you” and it was just so thrilling at that moment to look around as a parent and see so many children at panto for the first time and relishing in every moment. I found it quite emotional, and then when Beauty (Ruby Eva) and the Beast danced together to Iris by the Goo Goo dolls it sent me over the edge and I held my breath. I remember being four or five and seeing the Disney movie for the first time and being mesmerised – and for a moment I was experiencing those same feelings. The music chosen for the show really was spot on and had us all clapping along.

The one tune which has stayed with us all afternoon is “Soapy Soapy” (to the tune of Hokey Cokey) – a fabulous slapstick scene where poor Maurice (Peter Watts) was stripped down to his pants in the name of comedy. He did marvellously in this non speaking scene, where the stage was set with a huge sheet and Dolly and Billy went to town with bubbles and mops – it was chaos on the stage and had me laughing with tears rolling down my cheeks …. I also have to give a mention to the Beyoncé style moves from Maurice during the “best song in the entire show!” Great comic timing – it’s such a shame his character got thrown to the wolves in the end.

Honestly I could rave about this show all day – Arlo’s fallen asleep talking to me about mop stealing “naughty nickers” and said he had the best time ever. Thank you for inviting us to the show – Beauty and the Beast is running at The Belgrade until 4th Jan 2022 – good luck to the troupe for the rest of this run – next years panto will be Jack and the Beanstalk – we can’t wait to come back and see you again!

What’s new Pussycat – a review

I have waited so long to be back in the audience of a live show. I’ve been a lifelong fan of the theatre and have a memory box full of programmes from performances I have seen, so when The Rep got in touch and asked me to come along to a preview showing of “what’s new pussycat” I was delighted.

Picture the scene: it’s 1965 and London is swinging. Tom Jones our protagonist arrives from Somerset trying to prove himself in order to woo the love of his life Mary. He arrives in Carnaby Street and quickly becomes part of the scene and then Mary arrives, not looking for him but ready to establish herself as the next big fashion designer – cleverly modelled on Mary Quant.

This love story, interwoven with hysterical plot lines which had the audience laughing out loud is interwoven beautifully with the music and lyrics of Tom Jones. written by Tony Award winning Joe Di Pietro, I am awed by how seamlessly the plot worked with the songs. My favourite moments were seeing how some of the most famed tunes such as “Delilah” and “Leave your hat on” were performed in “unique” ways which will have you wiping away tears of laughter

During the performance there were so many fun moments, all set in a time of tumultuous change. We can laugh now at genders roles being reversed, and there’s a running theme of female empowerment and the smashing of the patriarchy which is a theme still so relevant to all of us – the rapturous audience applause this evening given in support of one of the characters coming out of the closet was something really special.

Did I mention that the show is choreographed by the one and only Arlene Phillips? The talent of the entire cast was showcased with many different solo opportunities and seamless transitions between sets which cleverly paid attention to detail. From the costumes and props to the backdrops, there were so many hidden treasures to spot throughout for the pop culture and fashion of this era. I didn’t realise how much of a fan of the sixties I was.

Me this evening during the interval

I highly recommend booking to see this show – tickets start from £17.50 and are available to order online now for performances up until 14th November

The Rep is undergoing a refurbishment of the foyer area so allow a little extra time for your arrival. Interval drinks can also be pre-ordered.

Sarah and Duck at the outdoor amphitheater

The Mac has done it again. Our first experience of live theatre in over a year was simply delightful. We were transported in to the whimsical world of Sarah and Duck, the BAFTA award winning children’s show for an hour on a summer afternoon. The setting for this performance is the outdoor amphitheatre at the MAC in Cannon Hill park which is just perfect because you can meet ducks before and after the show walking around the pools in the park. Click here to book your tickets this weekend.

Just before the show started we had the chance to read a book we bought from the merchandise on offer which included several of the story books and of course plushie versions of Sarah and Duck themselves.

The performance features all of the much loved characters recognisable from the books and tv show, even the flamingo and they’re all bought to life through skilled puppetry, designed by Lauren McEwen. Seeing how the stage props came together was magical in itself, turning the construction of the big top circus in to a song and seeing it spring in to life was like watching masterful design in action. The attention to detail was incredible and nothing went unnoticed by Arlo. Transforming the stage set in to a zoo to meet the penguins, and then back to the big top after a huge gust of wind blew it over, and then back to the park bench was masterful.

The show was engaging throughout, set at just the right pace for pre-schoolers. Continued repetition of words and phrases, sing along moments, a and audience participation kept Arlo occupied and interested in the storyline. I’m surprised at just how many references to the show the writers Pete Glanville and Sarah Gomes-Harris managed to include. If you love Sarah and Duck then you’ll know what I mean when I say the moon and the ribbon sisters were spot on!

The Mac always hosts great performances and the opportunity to experience a show in the amphitheatre doesn’t come around often, so head over this weekend – the performance is outdoors so be prepared with sun cream and/or waterproofs as it’s so unpredictable.

The Sarah and Duck show is on tour so head to their website to check out if they’re coming to your town.

We’re going on a bear hunt – theatre performance at The Mac

This morning we woke up at a ridiculous hour (even earlier than usual) because of the clocks going backwards. Despite my best efforts to stay in bed for a lovely Sunday lie in – it wasn’t going to happen.

By 9am we had had breakfast with dinosaurs, done lots of stickers and stamping and we had read “we’re going on a bear hunt” a dozen times – with lots of songs and actions.

At some point in my sleepy haze I remembered that a flyer had popped through the letter box about a theatre production at The MAC – and so I checked ticket availability online, packed up our bags and we decided to go on a real bear hunt.

Parking for the Mac is plentiful, it’s the same car park for Cannon Hill Park, and is neighbouring the old Nature Centre. I use the parking app’s and there’s a reasonable charge of £2.81 for four hours.

We arrived early, purchased our tickets from the reception/shop area and had time for a second breakfast in the cafe. It was packed but we managed to place our order efficiently, find a table and our food was served in ten minutes – we munched our toast before we heard the sound system give a five minute warning for performance time.

We clambered up the stairs and into the Foyle theatre which is a lovely small theatre with padded bench style seats which were surprisingly comfortable. The seating was unallocated but despite being second row from the back, as it’s such an intimate space this wasn’t an issue. You don’t need to rush to get a good seat and then keep a child occupied for a long time, unless of course you’re in a large group and wish to sit together.

The lights dimmed, and four actors marched in to the room chanting the familiar “we’re going on a bear hunt” rhythm and as soon as they did Arlo was transfixed.

I won’t give you much detail about the performance itself but suffice to say it was a mesmerising show, and truly captured the spirit of the story. The puppets were beautiful and operated in a really unique style which portrayed realistic movement – if you like spoilers then you can check out the official YouTube channel – there’s no filming/photography allowed during the show.

The addition of music was lovely, and delighted Arlo, and when eventually the bear was discovered, it was fabulous to have him bought around to greet everyone in the audience with a roar.

The 45 minutes passed by quickly and I was surprised at how well behaved Arlo was during the whole performance. Being child friendly there was no problem with him loudly roaring and pointing out the different animals which appeared – in fact at a couple of stages audience participation was required and encouraged.

Little Angel Theatre productions are based in London but have various touring shows so check the website as there might be an opportunity to catch a show near you!

I now feel confident that we can go and enjoy more experiences like this together, at £13/£15 per ticket I was reluctant to book ahead originally as it’s hard to predict what kind of mood Arlo will be in, but I no longer have this qualm and am going to make sure I book dates for future events in advance as I’m sure they will sell out. I have no doubts Arlo will share my love of theatre and the performing arts in the future.

We used the changing facilities at the MAC which are always spotless before heading out to walk around the duck pond in the park as we still had plenty of time on the parking meter – and Arlo was happy to chant “we’re going on a bear hunt” and roar at some passers by with delight! Despite visiting Cannon Hill park regularly since I was a child, it always surprises me at how such a beautiful place can exist in the middle of our busy city. If you are visiting it’s a lovely escape from the hustle and bustle, and worth checking the “what’s on” guide.

To book tickets in Birmingham click here