Review: Cinderella is a big, bold and beautiful Christmas treat on Coventry stage

Nick Le Mesurier reviews Cinderella, written and directed by Iain Lauchlan, at the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry
Holly Topping and the cast of Cinderella (photo: Nicola Young)Holly Topping and the cast of Cinderella (photo: Nicola Young)
Holly Topping and the cast of Cinderella (photo: Nicola Young)

Once more, Iain Lauchlan’s spectacular Christmas pantomime special lights up the Coventry stage. This time it’s bigger, warmer, funnier, cleverer than ever. This tired old reviewer, who has seen a few pantomimes in his time, smiled the whole way through, and often laughed out loud!

Reviewing pantomime isn’t easy. The plots are pretty much the same, the characters outrageous or beautiful (or both); the goodies overly sugary, the baddies like vinegar. Pantomime has a long history, and the story of Cinderella probably goes back some three thousand years to ancient China. So, what makes one stand out from another, and this one in particular?

Pantomime has to be big, bold, and brash. There’s no point in subtlety. This one is very big and bold, but maybe not quite so brash as before. More like beautiful in its stage design and the many actors’ costumes. And there was a warmth to the show that I can’t quite pin down. Something beyond all the slapstick.

Iain Lauchlan as Dame Flatula and Andy Hockley as Aroma (photo: Nicola Young)Iain Lauchlan as Dame Flatula and Andy Hockley as Aroma (photo: Nicola Young)
Iain Lauchlan as Dame Flatula and Andy Hockley as Aroma (photo: Nicola Young)

There were, of course, many moments of audience interaction, and the brave members of the public who took their places on stage played their parts wonderfully, not least Michelle who watered a very risqué looking plant, a gift from Buttons (Craig Hollingsworth) to his beloved Cinderella (Holly Topping). There were kids, and dads too, all involved in the fun on stage. The Slippers, Kids Chorus were superb.

A pantomime has to be spectacular. There were some glorious moments, not least involving a wonderful animatronic horse that flew Cinders to the ball. And, for me, an absolutely splendid and astonishing extended tongue-twister sketch between dames Flatula (Iain Lauchlan) and his wicked sister Aroma (Andy Hockley) and the wonderful Buttons. Visual spectacle is one thing, but this kind of verbal pyrotechnics is quite another. It lifted the show to a level of genius that can only be done through language.

At the heart of any pantomime lies, of course, the dame, or in this case dames. Iain and Andy came on as heavy rockers and sped their way through a series of eye-popping costumes, each more fantastical than the last. They were countered by the wicked stepmother, played by Emma Mulkern, who also played the Fairy Godmother. And then there was Buttons, who deserves a column all to himself. Craig Hollingsworth is the perfect compere, joking, cajoling, encouraging, laughing, playing tricks and keeping the whole thing together. If you want to know how to hold over 800 people in the palm of your hand, just watch Craig Hollingsworth.

Maybe that’s where the magic lies, in the rapport between the stars Iain Lauchlan and Craig Hollingsworth, and the audience. It is as if they are all old friends. They know each other well. When they step on stage it is as they have come home. Andy Hockley’s contribution only adds to the mix. It’s a lovely thing to behold, and one of the many reasons theatre is so precious.

Emma Mulkern as the Fairy Godmother (photo: Nicola Young)Emma Mulkern as the Fairy Godmother (photo: Nicola Young)
Emma Mulkern as the Fairy Godmother (photo: Nicola Young)

I have only one nagging question left in my mind. What can they possibly do to top this show next year? I have no idea, but I'll bet they do it.

Cinderella runs until January 13. Visit belgrade.co.uk to book.