GOLDILOCKS AND THE THREE BEARS
Birmingham Hippodrome, Tuesday 21st December, 2021
After two years, pantomime is back in Birmingham, with the Hippodrome pulling out all the stops as usual to provide the glitteriest, spangliest, sparkliest show imaginable. The story of Goldilocks is well-known but too slight to fill a full-length show—the events of the tale are covered here in the time it takes to perform the Donna Summer classic, Hot Stuff! The rest of the time is largely padding, hung loosely around a scrap of plot about rival circuses. It is a variety show, when all’s said and done, yet the circus theme allows the inclusion of magicians, tightrope walkers, even stunt motorcycles in the ‘Globe of Speed’, performing feats even more death-defying than the audience members who are not wearing masks.
The show is packed with entertainment, but it takes a while to get going with not one, two, or three but FOUR opening numbers in a row. Two of these should be cut. The villain gets a song, setting out his stall, and that’s fair enough, but when the dame’s first appearance is a po-faced ballad about dreams and believing, you long for something funny to happen.
King of Birmingham panto, Matt Slack makes a welcome and overdue return, giving us exactly what we’ve come to expect and what he’s so good at. He’s Ringo the Ringmaster (although it’s left to Goldilocks to introduce most of the acts!) but really he’s the clown. His audience-handling is second-to-none, and his physical comedy is hilarious. There is a sequence of impressions that impresses, and you can see why the Hippodrome gets him back year after year after year, because of the fun and the level of skill he brings. Bring on next Christmas, when he’ll be giving us his Dick (Whittington, that is).
Top of the bill is superstar and heartthrob, Jason Donovan, making his panto debut as the villainous Count Ramsay of Erinsborough. Donovan is deliciously evil in the role, dressed like the Child-Catcher, and he’s in great voice. He proves himself a great sport and clearly has a strong rapport with Slack on and off-stage. I can’t bring myself to boo him.
Also back is Doreen Tipton, appearing this time as a lazy lion tamer. Doreen’s deadpan delivery is a hoot, and she has fun in spite of herself. One of the best dames in the business, Andrew Ryan is Betty Barnum, in a range of outfits of increasing extravagance. Ryan shines brightest in the comedy moments, displaying perfect timing. It’s the earnest musical numbers that don’t seem to fit. Even Be A Clown is a bit dour.
In the title role, Samantha Dorrance is a knockout as a sweet and perky Goldilocks. The Three Bears I find a little disturbing, with their full-body costumes and human faces. Considering the quality of the rest of the animals in the show (a marvellous gorilla, and an astonishing elephant…) and the sky-high production values of the rest of it, the Three Bears seem a little short-changed, but they’re performed with verve by Ewan Goddard, Georgia Anderson, and Jessica Daugirda, as Daddy, Mummy, and Baby Bear respectively. There is also a star turn from Alexia McIntosh as Candy Floss, whose rich vocal stylings lift the musical numbers into something special.
The story, such as it is, is broken-up by circus acts. Pierre Marchand amazes with his diabolo; The Gemini Sisters on their tightrope; and Phil Hitchcock as the Magical Mysterioso — all are gobsmackingly good, although in a piece that touches on cruelty to animals, I’m dismayed to see live birds used as props.
On the whole, the show provides welcome respite from the grimness of life in Britain at the moment. There is much to marvel at and more to laugh at. It’s a crowd-pleasing piece of fun brimming with sauciness and silliness. You don’t need ten good reasons to see it—Jason Donovan is reason enough for me, and yes, it’s great to have Matt Slack back and at the top of his game.