19 December 2023
And so the reviewing year that was 2023 comes to a close with GOLDILOCKS & THE THREE BEARS; THE GREATEST PANTO ON EARTH – so goes the byline; but is it? A panto, that is? This is not a negative, just an observation.
However, before we investigate the production further, let me just say this is one of the most visually arresting shows I have seen; a feast for the eyes with more lights and colour than you can shake a stick at. It is an assault on the eyes, but one which is full of joy and pleasure.
So what of my initial question? Well, the show is based on a fairy story, as many pantomimes are, but in this incarnation, there are many elements not present; no ‘dame’ in fact, no cross-dressing character at all, no real equivalent to the baddie, no real ‘magic’ element and, as alluded to by one of the characters, virtually no ‘plot’. Such is the construction of the show that it feels that you might be watching the Royal Variety Performance as ‘act’ follows ‘act’ in an endless round of routines. It is a most unusual show, but all that being said, it is enormously fun and entertaining.
A wicked circus owner is out to ruin a lovely circus by stealing their prize performer – a tap dancing bear. The good circus people overthrow the naughty ringmaster and all live happily ever after. The plot in a nutshell.
The baddie, Baron von Bolshoi, is provided by former Strictly Come Dancing professional, Brendan Cole – and he is a very effective villain, patently loving geeing the audience up, oh and he gets to show off his dance skills into the bargain. Dame Kelly Holmes is the equivalent goodie, Ringmistress Olympia. Now, Dame Kelly’s achievements in athletics and other fields are considerable and she is a bright personality, a stage performer she is not, but she manages to get by with a big smile.
Goldilocks is brightly acted and well sung by Alexandra Mardell, though she doesn’t have much character to work with. The very accomplished Samuel Holmes makes the most of all his sharp gags as Larry the Lion Tamer and Adam C Booth is spot on as Joey the Clown, engaging very well with the audience throughout. Eleanor Walsh is a crowd favourite as the dancing Baby Bear and Steve Hewlett is fantastic as Silly Billy – though it is as a ventriloquist that he is really in the cast for – him and his handheld friends are a real hit. And – completely separate from the rest of the cast and the plot – Gordon Marquez gives an entertaining turn with his juggling act.
I have mentioned before that the script is the lynchpin of a pantomime; well, here there is so little script, that maybe I am completely wrong. The show somehow works with the fewest words of dialogue and the thinnest of storylines; it wins out on the performances and what words there are work well, peppered with some nice original gags. The ‘If I Were Not Upon the Stage’ – or a version thereof, makes another appearance, not as brutal or as funny as some I have seen, and we have the appearance of an enormous elephant at one point, for about a minute. It’s all very strange, but I enjoyed it a great deal.
A few issues with sound; the band under Joseph Morley are great but loud and the balance between them and the cast is often poor; come on sound operator, it should be possible for an audience to hear words!
Children and adults alike will have been entranced by the spectacle and won’t care too much about the weak plot. It is a fun, colourful and faintly ludicrous show – it may not be ‘the greatest pantomime on earth’, I just can’t recommend it enough – it brings smiles to faces and there is enough good material to see you through into 2024.
Cast & Creatives
Baron von Bolshoi – Brendan Cole
Ringmistress Olympia – Dame Kelly Holmes
Goldilocks – Alexandra Mardell
Larry, the Lion Tamer – Samuel Holmes
Silly Billy – Steve Hewlett
Joey, the Clown – Adam C Booth
Daddy Bear – Rexford Boadu
Mummy Bear – Emily Law
Baby Bear – Eleanor Walsh
El Mariachi Marquez – Gordon Marquez
Ensemble – Poppy Blackledge, Jack Buchanan, Amelie Cohen, Evangeline Jarvis-Jones, Ben MacGillivray, Ellie May-Wilson, Nathan Ryles
The Theatre Royal Junior Ensemble
Writer – Alan McHugh
Additional Material – Steve Hewlett & Matt Slack
Director – Jonathan Kiley
Choreographer – Paul Robinson
Set Design – Ian Westbrook
Lighting Design – Ben Cracknell
Sound Design – Sebastian Frost
Costume Design – Teresa Nalton
A Crossroads Pantomime