BWW Review: DICK WHITTINGTON, Belgrade Theatre Coventry, 1 December 2016
The Belgrade Theatre in Coventry has teamed up again with Imagine Theatre and panto veteran Iain Lauchlan to create a brand new production of Dick Whittington - a very popular title choice in the Midlands this year it seems! Remarkably busy for a school night, there was a very good mixture of adults and children alike making up last night's audience - all of whom were able to find plenty of elements to entertain them across the three-hour production.
The luscious pop-up book-style sets by Mark Walters sparkle even before the curtain rises at the top of the show. With an incredible amount of detail and smooth scene changes, the action moves seamlessly from location to location. Although similar in its design to previous years, the people of Coventry and surrounding areas have come to expect high quality, and Dick Whittington does not disappoint. Pete Kramer's lighting is perfectly panto with good use of colour and stage splits - particularly during the scenes between Fairy Bow Bells and Queen Rat, who predominantly occupy the far sides of the stage and aprons.
Lauchlan's script is always witty and packed full of content without losing the thread of the story. He is a multi-talented performer, writer and director and always seems to thrive when on stage in front of an audience. All of the traditional panto elements are in there including a ghost gag, slosh routine, the standard humiliation of an adult audience member, a songsheet with a selection of children at the end of the show; there's nothing missing.
He also draws on lots of current issues and occurrences including Brexit and Pokemon Go...or PokeRAT Go in this instance. Lauchlan's regular sidekick Craig Hollingsworth is on top form again this year with his high energy levels and great interaction with the audience. Many a child revelled in throwing 'Pokeballs' at a rat dressed as Pikachu on stage during the production! The short song accompanying it also left the theatre on children's lips, which is a great sign.
There are some lovely original songs in the show but none that I would really class as showstoppers or ones to get your feet tapping. The Act One finale especially could have done with something stronger to send you into the interval. Musical Director 'Uncle' Glenn Hogue leads the band enthusiastically and Martyn Davies's sound design finds the balance well between music and vocals.
The ensemble cast, including the child performers, are very strong overall. Considering the run has only just started, they give polished and confident performances. Tricia Adele-Turner is a charismatic principal boy as Dick Whittington along with the superb acrobatic skills of Tommy the Cat (played by Becky Stone), who could have come straight off a production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Cats. Melone M'Kenzy is a soulful and diva-like Queen Rat with her chorus of rats and she commands the stage exceptionally well.
The only notable issue is that throughout the show the energy levels peak and trough - getting this consistent would make the production seem slightly less long. As an audience member, you certainly get your money's worth, but there are a fair few restless children around by midway through Act Two.
Another successful Christmas panto offering by the Belgrade, suitable for audiences of all ages.
Dick Whittington plays at the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry until Saturday 7 January 2017.