December is nearly here, and that means it’s time to head to the theatre for a bit of panto. The Belgrade’s offering this year is Puss in Boots and, in true Belgrade style, it’s an incredibly fun night that you’ll enjoy no matter how old you are.
After the death of the baker in the village of Baggy Bottom on the Bog, King Colin (David Gilbrook) declares that his widow Matilda Pudding (Iain Lauchlan) and her son Simon (Craig Hollingsworth) can retain control of their family bakery. But that doesn’t sound good to the devious Victor Grabitt (Peter Watts), servant of a nearby ogre who terrorises the village, who wants to take over and put the bakery on Airbnb. The kind Fairy Flutterby (Aimee Bevan) brings a bit of magic to proceedings to help out the Puddings, including transforming their cat into the heroic Puss in Boots (Joanna Thorne). But will the family be able to defeat the villainous Grabitt, saving their home and the kingdom in the process?
It’s infectiously good fun, and everyone looked like they were having a brilliant time onstage
The Belgrade pantomime is always an absolute treat, and Puss in Boots does not mark a change in that sense – it’s infectiously good fun, and everyone looked like they were having a brilliant time onstage. The main parts were filled by Hollingsworth and Lauchlan, who were both here last year and have retained the same joyful energy. This time, they’re cast as son and mother respectively, bouncing off each other and cracking the best gags. It also means that we get some great set pieces, including Simon making an offer of an enchanted rose to Grabitt and the mandatory cake-making scene (coupled with a bit of audience participation and the kids in the audience rooting for someone to get a pie in the face).
We also see a reappearance by Thorne, this time cast as the titular character – she has such a friendly stage presence, and my only criticism is that she really doesn’t get very much to do. I thought the Watts as Grabitt was fantastic – he was chewing the scenery as all panto villains must, but he does so with a great sense of physicality and movement. By introducing him as a (hardly) potential romantic rival to Simon, it gives him more to do and allows him to interact with the cast. Miriam Grace Edwards (who I actually saw here last year too, although in alternative panto Over the Top) is charming as the Princess Sophia, and she shares some sweet chemistry with Simon. The entire cast looks like they’re having fun, and it really translates to the viewing experience.
There’s a number of new songs, including a fun number about how to be posh. As well as the return of the old staple ‘If I Weren’t In Panto’, a four-parter between Simon, Matilda, Puss and King Colin – it looks exhausting and the cast succeeds in making it a slapstick-filled highlight. I thought that the weakest aspect of the show was a new rap number, which is reprised maybe four or five times but it is not quite strong enough for it. It does allow for some good dance moves by the ensemble, though, and I must praise Dylan Jones, who was backflipping and twisting on stage like it was nothing. There was a lot of much-deserved applause for him at the end of the dance sequence.
Expect to see many of your panto staples in Puss in Boots, from cries of ‘it’s behind you’ and (sadly) jibes about my home town of Nuneaton. The special effects this time manifest as an ogre and a bear, which work really well. It is possible that the action scenes at the end may be a little too frightening for young children (some of those in the audience seemed scared), but I thought that they were executed very well.
“Two-and-a-half hours of silliness brought to life by people who are clearly enjoying themselves and want you to enjoy yourself too”
Puss in Boots is good fun; two-and-a-half hours of silliness brought to life by people who are clearly enjoying themselves and want you to enjoy yourself too. Make sure to catch it at the Belgrade this Christmas, and you’ll have a really enjoyable night!