The cast of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, photo by Simon Hadley
Venue: Birmingham Hippodrome
Performance Date: 07 January 2022
Reviewer: Gemma Fincher
Star Rating: ★★★★★
The festive period is a distant memory, and the January blues are in full swing. However, there is light, respite, and laughs in abundance in the form of Birmingham Hippodrome’s ‘Greatest Panto on Earth’ – Goldilocks and the Three Bears. For those in the market for two hours of pure escapism, head to this vibrant and vivacious pantomime which runs until Sunday 30 January. It’s a perfect tonic to, just for a moment, forget all the uncertainty and darkness that continues to plague the world and indeed the theatre industry as we enter 2022.
The Hippodrome can always be counted on to deliver a fabulous panto, and Goldilocks certainly doesn’t buck that trend. With an all-star cast led by Jason Donovan and Birmingham stalwart, Matt Slack, this panto is a feast for the senses and has something for everyone.
Earlier this year, pantomime giants QDOS were acquired by Crossroads Live, and Goldilocks is one of their larger offerings. As ever with panto, liberties are taken with the source material, and such is the case here. Whilst the plot stays largely true to the original tale, the show is set in Dame Betty Barnum’s Circus as the troupe of circus performers try to snare their star act. Meanwhile, the villainous Count Ramsay of Erinsborough, the cruel owner of a competing circus, tries to thwart their efforts and champions their closure.
It’s always a challenge to keep pantos fresh and exciting, whilst maintaining the requisite expectations of the Great British tradition. The Hippodrome has truly mixed things up this year, by making Goldilocks a legitimate circus with bona fide performers and acts including the very impressive Phil Hitchcock, whose magic is quite breathtaking. The Gemini Sisters are given scope to showcase their stunning aerial abilities, and Pierre Marchand delivers a thoroughly enjoyable and intricate juggling performance. The stops are well and truly pulled out in the form of Peter Pavlov and The Globe of Speed. They are a troupe of four motorcyclists who defy death as they race around a tiny globe perfectly in sync. It’s heart in the mouth stuff.
90’s heartthrob and legend Jason Donovan is making his panto debut and does a sterling job as the mean Count. The script mercilessly ribs his history with Kylie and his legendary stint in Neighbours, whilst cleverly peppering in lyrics to his hit singles throughout. Donovan takes is all in his stride and is wonderfully good-humoured. It’s a fantastic debut and hopefully the first of many panto roles for him.
Andrew Ryan is in residence as Dame Betty Barnum and couldn’t be a safer pair of hands. This is Ryan’s thirty-fifth panto, which is astonishing. He truly is a master of his craft and the perfect dame. He is complemented in droves by Samantha Dorrance who puts in a solid turn as the titular Goldilocks and Alexia McIntosh as an underused Candy Floss. Birmingham native McIntosh is best known for her role in the global phenomenon Six, and it’s a shame her talents aren’t showcased further. Her performance of the beautiful number To Where You Are (originally performed by Josh Groban) is really quite something.
Lazy cow and Black Country legend Doreen Tipton brings her usual dry wit to proceedings as The Lazy Lion Tamer. Again, it would have been nice to see more from her, but with the addition of the circus acts, it’s understandable that some of the cast’s stage time will be limited.
The wider ensemble also works incredibly hard and delivers Karen Bruce’s choreography with assurance, poise, and class. The Twins FX visual special effects are stunning and Ian Westbrook’s staging is quite something to behold. Ben Cracknell has also designed some stunning lighting sequences to make this panto a true sensory experience.
The feather in the cap of Goldilocks is without a doubt Matt Slack in his role as Ringo, the Ringmaster. He also co-wrote this year’s production with Alan McHugh. Performing in his eighth successive Hippodrome panto and his twenty-first in total, he is the glue that holds the piece together. Slack just seems to effortlessly elevate his performance year on year. He is hysterically funny and one of those rare performers whose mere presence on stage causes hilarity. His comic timing is off the charts, and he clearly revels in causing his co-stars to corpse which in turn delights the audience. He is an incredibly versatile performer; he can do uncanny impersonations and can sing beautifully. There really aren’t enough superlatives to describe just how talented he is. Birmingham knows just how lucky they are to have him, and he deserves all his plaudits.
Goldilocks and the Three Bears is an unmissable pantomime. With panto pedigree in abundance, this is a feel-good, laugh-out-loud frolic of perfection. You have three more weeks to catch it. Take those two hours of escapism and fully immerse yourselves in the joy of pantomime – your lives will be all the richer for it.
Runs until: Sunday 30 January 2022