Never having watched The One Show let alone Country File or Our Farm In the Dales the fact that Matt Baker was the star of this splendidly staged and version of the story meant nothing at all. It turned out he has charm, can play comedy, walk the tightrope and has everything it takes to head the bill. The pantomime’s story devised by Alan McHugh is pretty rudimentary – the bears play only an incidental part in what is a mishmash of Barnum and The Greatest Showman and there is no who has been sleeping in my bed? But plot was never really what mattered in a pantomime and all the essential elements are there.
The Dame, Betty Barnum (a superb Nigel Ellacott) runs a circus. Goldilocks (Tamara Morgan) is her daughter with whom Joey the Clown (Baker) is in love. He also wants to be the star of the circus and part of his trying to prove he can fill that role means Baker does the Barnum tightrope walk. It is a breathtaking moment. The owner of a rival circus, the Countess Von Vinklebottom (a whip cracking Jessica Martin on top form) wants to take it over and kidnaps the three bears for her menagerie which is about as far as the plot goes. But add splendid costumes, more sequins than you can imagine exist are used, two specialty acts who make you wonder just how they do what they do, and a six strong ensemble who seem to spend the entire evening changing from one magnificent costume to the next while dancing up a storm and that is it. The sets are pretty basic but have more lights than one thinks possible in these straitened times and just to help things along sparklers keep going off all over the place while things float down from on high. The audience participates vociferously – poor Andy in the stalls was Betty’s chosen victim – and there is a terrific closing routine for the leading members of the cast in which Baker keeps getting clobbered, plus a curtain call disclosure that the ensemble are all still at college. It is possibly the best pantomime on in London, perhaps the best for miles around. It could be the year’s best all over the land for all I know. The front cloth boasts that Betty Barnum’s circus is the greatest show on earth – well this is a truly great show. The specialty acts are a Phil Hitchcock who does amazing things with fire and then doves and Gordon Marquez a juggler supreme and both add lustre to the evening. The children loved it and so did the grownups which is not always the case with pantomime.
Joey the Clown: Matt Baker.
Countess Von Vinklebottom: Jessica Martin.
Dame Betty Barnum: Nigel Ellagott.
Ringothe Ringmaster: Phil Walker.
Goldilocks: Tamara Morgan.
Mummy Bear: Nova Skipp.
Daddy Bear: James Paterson.
Baby Bear: Lucy Conley.
The Magical Mysterioso: Phil Hitchcock.
El Mariachi Marquez: Gordon Marquez.
Ensemble: Tia Gyngell; Reece Kilminster; Zara Liu; Jack Palmer; Pep Ribas; Emily Megan Shepherd.
Director: Matt Slack;
Musical Director: Pierce Tee.
Choreographer: Gerry Ziccarello.
Set Design: Ian Westbrook.
Sound Design: Ollie Durrant.
Costume Design: Mike Coltman & teresa Nalton.
Production photograph: Gerry Sugden.