Panto season is well and truly here and no more so than at Birmingham Hippodrome where Robinson Crusoe & the Caribbean Pirates is playing right through til the 27th January. QDOS pantomimes can always be relied on to deliver the best quality productions and this one is no exception.
Starring Birmingham favourite Brian Conley in his third consecutive pantomime at the Hippodrome, he delivers on every possible level. By his own admission, he had a terrible cold last night but this did not hinder his performance or energy levels. The show often turns into 'The Brian Conley Show' but he knows exactly what the audience likes and gives them their money's worth. Conley penned the script for Robinson Crusoe with Michael Harrison from QDOS and his influence is very apparent throughout. Although the storyline can be quite static in places, what it occasionally lacks in substance is more than made up for with style and attack.
Visually, Ian's Westbrook's sets are stunning. The use of colour and attention to detail is very impressive, particularly on the costumes. The opening sequence of the show features a large pirate ship which looked incredible under Ben Cracknell's beautiful lighting design. His work is particularly clever at the end of Act One when we are treated to a nice throwback to Conley's time in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang - a flying car, the mechanics of which are expertly hidden.
The orchestra sounded great under the direction of Robert Willis. There are many chart-topping hits from the past year which the audience were happy to join in with, notably Gangnam Style in which a poor lady from the crowd had to perform on stage! Some of the song choices did seem a little random however as they had little relevance to the plot in hand but were nevertheless enjoyable. The high calibre of performers making up the ensemble delivered Karen Bruce's fantastic choreography with precision and gusto and were a joy to watch.
Lesley Joseph plays a wonderful 'Enchantress of the Ocean' and scenes shared with Conley are very entertaining. She looks amazing in her skimpy costumes and seems to revel in every moment on stage. Joseph has a memorable number in Act Two called 'It's Me' with an ensemble of merpeople. It's a bit of a shame that it was mimed but is a wonderful routine.
Regular principal girl Kathryn Rooney gives another star turn in this year's pantomime playing Polly. She is a real talent and it's no wonder that QDOS keep wanting her back! Gavin Woods gives a very good performance as Blackheart, our resident baddie, but the best performance in the show must go to Andrew Ryan playing Mrs Crusoe - by far the best Dame I have seen in a pantomime bar none.
Overall the Birmingham Hippodrome have done it yet again and delivered another great family friendly pantomime - perhaps not their strongest over the past few years but still a brilliant night's entertainment.