The West End doesn't really do panto any more. The blockbuster shows are too big, the tourist market too important and the format too, well, too much maybe? If the public wants its fix of kitsch, freaky showbiz with a bit of audience participation, there's the X Factor and Twitter for that stuff. But in its true home - suburban and provinical theatres - panto lives on, fueled by the longstanding habits that sustain Christmas, by the appeal of family entertainment and by the comfort of familiarity with a format the roots of which run deep in British culture. Everyone knows the stories, everyone knows the drills and everyone has a bloody good time of it.
Nowhere is this more true than at Greenwich Theatre where Andrew Pollard has again taken the reins to write, act and (for the first time) direct this year's offering, Robin Hood. With George Osborne leading the newspapers and recession still stalking the land, political satire might be the order of the day but, as with soap operas - a format which which panto shares more than just star names - current affairs do not impinge on the make-believe world (though Gangnam Style inevitably does!)
Pantoland is a spectacular world full of glitter, magic and song - not to mention baddies, damsels in distress and have-a-go heroes. As the Sheriff, Anthony Spargo is all moustache-twirling villainy eventually bested by Michael Harris' principled Robin, who also wins the hand of female ninja Maid Marian, Arabella Rodrigo. There's soild support too from some of last year's Aladdin crew - Garry Ellis and Paul Critoph - and some very fine singing from Caroline Koutsoudes.
With no celebrity name to plaster on the playbills, Greenwich Theatre's panto always goes big on production values, live music and a something-for-everyone script and this year is no exception. The kids love it and the parents like it too - especially the corpsing and interplay between the cast when things go slightly awry. If it's not the most intellectually taxing couple of hours you'll spend in the stalls, it's one of the most entertaining - which is why the audiences keep pitching up, year-in, year -out. The answer as to why panto has endured so long in Britain is not "Behind you!", but in front of you - in the efforts of the performers and joy on the kids' faces, whether they be aged 8 or 80.
Robin Hood is at Greenwich Theatre until 6 January 2013.