Following a run of three critically and commercially successful pantomimes at the London Palladium, Qdos Entertainment has taken a step away from the more familiar canon with this free adaptation of Goldilocks and the Three Bears.
Traditionally placed in a circus setting, director Michael Harrison has pushed the boat out to incorporate an array of speciality circus acts, including daredevil motorcyclists, acrobatic roller skaters and an old-school magician in the shape of Phil Hitchcock.
The plot seems to be less important than usual, but it hardly seems a problem amid such a spectacle of colour, light and magic. Betty Barnum’s circus needs a new act to bolster its ailing finances and her daughter Goldilocks makes the acquaintance of a dancing Baby Bear. The Baron Von Savage kidnaps the whole Bear family, but good fortune is on their side and, by pulling together, good triumphs over evil.
The wafer-thin story actually works in the production’s favour, allowing each act to have its moment in the spotlight. The special visual effects by Twins FX are this year out-done both by the Skating Medini and Peter Pavlov and the Globe of Speed.
Meanwhile, Matt Baker, late of the One Show, proves a natural, affable clown as Joey. Tumbling with the best of them, Baker also performs a tightrope walk worthy of any circus ring. His romance with Sophie Isaacs’ amiable Goldilocks may be perfunctory, but the Palladium panto has always been more about entertainment than plot.
Harrison brings back his regular, reliable team of performers including ventriloquist Paul Zerdin and Nigel Havers, relishing his upgrade from panto extra to the featured role of Daddy Bear. Gary Wilmot as dame is pure class, while Paul O’Grady spits venom as the Baron from Bavaria via the Wirral. Janine Duvitski as Mummy Bear is a welcome addition to the team, although allusions to her role in TV sitcom Benidorm seem a little lazy at times.
But the real draw for many in the audience is undoubtedly Julian Clary as the Ringmaster. Recently honoured by the Palladium and its owner Andrew Lloyd Webber by being added to its Wall of Fame, Clary has brought a camp virtuosity to each of the Palladium pantomimes he has appeared in. Decked out in gratuitous finery, courtesy of costume designer Hugh Durrant, he cultivates a unique and hilarious indifference to plot and character that defies explanation.
Pantomime is a medium with its roots firmly embedded in variety. The framework that Harrison give Goldilocks and the Three Bears showcases this relationship perfectly. There may not be much of a love story, or even a Fairy Godmother, but you’d be hard pushed to find better light entertainment or spectacle in the UK this Christmas.