Birmingham Hippodrome once again plays host (for the sixth time) to Brian Conley for the annual pantomime after last year's blockbuster Cinderella. This year's extravaganza is loosely based on the story of Robinson Crusoe. Conley leads the cast playing Crusoe and his quick wit, improvisation skills and his natural charm and charisma with the audience make the pantomime a hugely memorable experience. Alongside Conley is Lesley Joseph as The Enchantress of the Ocean, Kathryn Rooney (reuniting with Conley once again) as Polly, Crusoe's love interest and Andrew Ryan as possibly the most memorable dame, Mrs Crusoe.
The plot follows Crusoe on his quest to get the treasure that has been destined for him from his father, but must tackle the Caribbean Pirates led by Blackheart (played by Gavin Woods). Due to Blackheart, the ship that Crusoe is sailing on gets led into a storm and is shipwrecked leaving Crusoe on a deserted island where he meets an underused Friday (Earl R Perkins) and is reunited with his crew of his mother, Polly (Rooney) and her father (James Paterson). Of course it's panto and even after Blackheart attempts to get his hands on the treasure and Polly, and an impromptu performance from The Mazeppa Cossacks, our hero saves the day and everyone lives happily ever after whilst also performing quite possibly the latest ‘Now' album.
No expense is spared in providing the audience with some awe inspiring moments that make even the most sceptical start to ponder how it all works and happens. There is the slap stick comedy that all pantos require alongside the local and topical jokes, but I expect few, if any, can keep up with the huge amount of laughter this one provides both intentional and unintentional. Audience participation is required and both Conley and Ryan relish in these opportunities and display their panto skills with vigour.
This really is a laugh a minute panto for the whole family with jokes for the ears of the young and the old without being unsuitable. The sets are impressively large and colourful filled with fantastic performances including children from The Birmingham Stage School and an ensemble who effortlessly change characters and seem to have unlimited energy. Even those who are not panto fans will be able to raise a smile, participate and most importantly, enjoy the spectacle of pantomime.
This is the perfect panto for the festive season. - Jonathan Wright