The Belgrade leads the way with the first of this year’s pantomimes in the West Midlands, and it has set a standard others are going to find hard to match.
The main reason can be summed up in two words: Andy Hockley. Anyone who imagines the art of the pantomime dame is endangered has obviously not seen Hockley, in a range of sculpted Technicolor outfits, bestriding the stage to ad-lib banter with cast and audience members alike. Hockley has just the right knack of making corny material genuinely funny. His is one of the most commanding performances I’ve seen in any theatrical genre this year.
The Belgrade has long had a reputation for good honest pantomime, done without dodgy TV stars but with the same professionalism with which it stages shows all year round.
Iain Lauchlan, a long-serving Belgrade dame before he passed on the frocks to Hockley, continues in the roles of co-author and director, and Hockley himself is appearing in his 13th Belgrade panto. There’s much to be said for continuity, but I don’t recall the last panto I saw here having quite the sparkle or feelgood factor this one does.
If Hockley is the star, he gets excellent clowning support from Marc Borthwick as Idle Jack.
Sarah Burton has designed costumes and a medieval London (complete with half-timbered Gherkin) in pleasingly excrutiating taste, and an excellent ship. Caroline Head makes a leggy and suitably up-for-it Dick, while the punk-styled King Rat (Sion Lloyd) and his henchmen Scratch and Sniff (Jeremy Cave and Leo Atkin) are eminently hissable.
Running time: Two hours, 55 minutes. Until January 10.