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Robinson Crusoe and the Caribbean Pirates review at the Cliffs Pavilion, Southend – ‘high-concept but hollow’

Brian Conley and Suzy Bastone in Robinson Crusoe. Photo: Sheila Burnett

There is plenty of spectacle but little substance to this colourful version of Robinson Crusoe from panto-producing powerhouse Qdos Entertainment.

Entering the auditorium, we are treated to Chris Winn’s charming lighting effects – shoals of fish and clouds of jellyfish drifting across an illuminated treasure map. Then the curtain rises, and the charm evaporates into swagger, strobe lights, and pillars of flame.

Director Kathryn Rooney drives her cast snappily through a jumbled plot featuring singsongs, an impressively malevolent sea monster, and crisp-as-clockwork slapstick routines.

Brian Conley dominates proceedings as Crusoe. Bellowing and leering, he superimposes himself on every scene, earning a lot of goodwill early on with a perfect pratfall into the orchestra pit.

The humour is thoroughly crass, crude and vaguely mean spirited. At one point Conley sticks his finger through his flies – a playground joke marginally improved by the inventive use of a fiddle bow. At another, he spits mouthfuls of half chewed food into love interest Suzy Bastone’s face.

TV stylist Gok Wan is natural and confident as the Spirit of the Ocean, a cheerful presence who raises the tone significantly. His short song about the hard work involved in ‘engineering happy endings’ is one of the show’s highlights.

Kurt Kansley shines in his brief appearance as Friday – here imagined as a tribal chief ruling over an island populated by Mardi Gras dancers. Their lavishly plumed costumes in green and yellow lend some suitably tropical warmth to a production that otherwise feels a little cold.

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Verdict
Hollow, high-concept romp kept afloat by striking visuals and a strong supporting cast
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