Coronavirus may have forced Coventry’s traditional pantomime online this year – but the only thing missing is the audience, says Iain Lauchlan, Coventry’s legendary pantomime dame.
Jack and the Beanstalk Online is still available to purchase to stream until December 31 from the the Belgrade’s website.
CoventryLive caught up with Iain – who is starring in the Belgrade’s panto for the 26th time – to chat about the show, his favourite parts of pantomime and what is in store for the future.
Probably Coventry’s most famous pantomime dame, Iain stepped in to save the day and record the online show in his Warwickshire studio when lockdown arrived again.
Iain has a career spanning over 40 years in the children’s entertainment industry, working on BBC favourite Playschool for eight years and the very successful Fingermouse series; Playdays, Storytime and Fun Song Factory.
But he is perhaps best known as the writer of the BAFTA award-winning children’s television series, The Tweenies.
Not only did the lockdown force the change of the location of the show, it also meant a much scaled-back cast. Iain played serveral roles himself, alongside his regular comedy co-star Craig Hollingsworth, and there are a few special extras, including BBC CWR’s Trish Adudu and a junior chorus of eight local schoolchildren.
And as the pandemic changed every way of operating, so too it affected the script and found its way into some of the show’s comedic material.
Iain said: “We’ve all got that common experience with lockdown with zoom calls, Joe Wicks, Zoom, NHS applause, so we thought we would include as many lockdown gags as possible.
“Even though it doesn’t have a live audience, we use the camera to really contact the audience.
“I do a lot of children’s programmes so we use the camera to contact the children to try and do that. We didn’t want to add a laughter track and wanted people to enjoy it for what it was.”
Look: Coventry panto over the years
What is his favourite thing about panto season?
Iain said: “It allows Craig and myself to weave in and out of the story, causing a little bit of chaos, and anarchy, and it’s important you have that laugh with the audience.
“[It’s that] shared fun that we have, just being a bit naughty and cheeky, they love that anarchy.
“It’s such freedom really which you can’t really do in any other thing, a play musical or drama, you’re just not allowed to do it anywhere else!
“When people respond to it, it’s such a joy, that shared experience with the audience. You’re having fun!”
And while the pandemic has caused massive disruption to the panto, it may have a positive effect on future performances.
Iain said coronavirus had forced them to re-think how accessible the panto is, and how they can change things for next year.
“In many ways it was lovely to do, everyone has a blast doing it, and we just really enjoyed it and I do hope that enjoyment comes from when people watch it,” he said.
“It would be lovely to send panto around the world and make it accessible to so many more people.
“There are a lot of people who just can’t come to the theatre who miss out on it.”