If you go down in the woods today, you’ll be sure a vibrant explosion of panto frolics and furry fun at the Birmingham Hippodrome where, after a covid-induced hiatus, the annual treat comes crashing back forming the cherry on top of a very rich Christmas cake.
The newly formed Crossroads Pantos rose phoenix-like from the remains of previous panto producers Qdos and transformed panto-like into the shiny new makers of our yuletide jollity with just enough traces of their previous incarnation blended with dollops of freshly minted ideas to justify their name change.
“Goldilocks and the Three Bears” is a plot rarely visited in pantodom. It’s scant and thin with only one familiar scene so it’s unsurprising Crossroads have taken to building out the story with some astounding circus artistes all of whom could carry their own show. Pierre Marchand spins a mean diablo with dexterous aplomb, Phil Hitchcock delivers an intriguing and bewildering array of prestidigitation, the Gemini Sister both tight rope walk and perform trapeze and Peter Pavlov presents not one, not two, not three but four stunning stunt motorcyclists encaged in a vast globe. That alone is worth the admission fee, but there’s more…
Topping the bill is eighties heartthrob (I think I’m contractually obliged to refer to him as such), Jason Donovan, deftly cracking his whip and eliciting oodles of boos as our baddie, Count Ramsay of Erinsborough, who, for reasons I couldn’t fathom, makes each of entrances to music not entirely unlike the German National Anthem and, despite this being his first pantomime, holds his own amidst the wacky mayhem around him. Doreen Tipton could have been given more to do as Doreen, the Lazy Lion Tamer but manages to squeeze every ounce of humour from her limited role. Andrew Ryan, a hugely endearing dame with years of experience and vast array of skills and, indeed, frocks – only one of which managed to upstage him – makes his mark clearly and precisely. Alexia McIntosh as the beautiful Candy Floss is a delight as is the adorable Goldilocks herself played by Samantha Dorrance, who brings a fresh and captivating slant to the role. Ewan Goddard, Georgie Anderson and Jessica Daugirda as the eponymous triumvirate of Brummie Bears are utterly irresistible not only for their bright and cheery demeanour but also for their tap-dancing skills (I’m looking at you, Baby!) and knowing how to waddle with style.
But the stand-out, stand-up star of the show is, as always, Matt Slack whose vast warmth and experience extends to the furthest rows of the auditorium. He owns the show and the audience. Not only a comic with a lightning selection of one-liners and sometimes half-liners, but a hugely impressive impressionist (did we really need the pictures to show who he was imitating?) and – despite a slightly misjudged Rolf Harris joke – pitched everything with perfect precision. The Spoon and Pan routine and a kind of mash-up between 12 Days of Xmas and “If I Were Not Upon the Stage” formed a Song Sheet – and were all adored. It was also a delight to see “Tree of Truth” (in this case “Trunk of Truth”) exhumed from the panto vaults and given a 21st century make over. He is a dynamo of comic joy with a masterly control of his material and audience.
Michael Harrison is the grand ringmaster of the entire event and, after eleven years, continues to prove himself the consummate showman.
Goldilocks and the Three Bears continues until the 30th January https://www.birminghamhippodrome.com/calendar/goldilocks/
Reviewer: Peter Kinnock
Reviewed: 7th January 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★