THE MAYFLOWER Theatre panto has become as much a part of our family’s Christmas as turkey and the tree, but the big question this year was: How could it possibly live up to last year’s standards?
The 2012 production, not that you could easily forget, featured Julian Clary as the Spirit of the Beans and a supporting cast led by Sir Nigel Havers, complete with a 3D backdrop that made it an amazing cross between theatre and cinema.
How to beat that? By going for something completely different. that’s how.
Brian Conley, as Robinson Crusoe, is a superb lead character. There’s plenty of his humour in the script - and plenty more added as the show takes shape. If anything the unscripted bits, when Conley and co-stars can barely keep straight faces and deliver the next line, are among the highlights.
There’s slapstick comedy, corny comedy, adult comedy (not that the kids would have noticed) ... and just about every other type of comedy ever heard of.
Those who used to love Conley’s Saturday-night TV show will love his performance - there are plenty of catchphrases and characters from those days - but you don’t have to have appreciated his past work to find him funny.
As ever with a Mayflower production, there’s polished singing, music and dancing and top-notch lighting and special effects - the kids in particular will love the scene straight out of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang but might hide their eyes when a huge sea monster looms large over them.
Lesley Joseph is ideal for the role of Crusoe’s sidekick, the Enchantress of the Ocean. And once you’ve seen Andrew Ryan as Crusoe’s ‘glamorous’ mother, it’s no surprise to find out he’s played the dame in 23 different pantos.
Gavin Woods is the baddie - Blackheart - and works hard to turn the audience against him, while Leon Lopez, playing Friday, raises plenty of laughs and female interest with his half-naked cameo role in the second half of the show.
As with any panto, audience participation plays a key role - Conley’s sideshow with the children pulled out of the crowd near the end is wonderful - and if your tickets are for the front row, just keep your head down when Crusoe appears with a video camera...
Robinson Crusoe and the Caribbean Pirates, Mayflower Theatre, Southampton, until January 12.
Tickets: 02380 711811 / mayflower.org.uk