Theatre review: Goldilocks and the Three Bears

This celebrity-filled panto is showbiz at its showiest, says John Nathan


“What a gift,” says Julian Clary who can inject profanity into the most innocuous phrase with the slightest inflection. He is referring to the role that has been bestowed on him — The Ringmaster — for this year’s most extravagant seasonal panto.

This is the first sign that it matters not a jot which fairy tail is being dusted off here. Since the Palladium panto became a thing in 2016 with Cinderella, celebrity and spectacle has been prioritised over storytelling. 

So this year sees the return of Paul O’Grady, not as as the comedian’s alter ego Lily but his other alter ego, the lesser known dastardly and whip-wielding Baron Von Savage whose Circus of Nightmares has not only come to town but is in direct competition with the big top owned by one Betty Barham, or as Clary calls him dryly, Gary Wilmot in a dress. 

It is Betty’s circus to which Clary’s Ringmaster is affiliated, and why he gets to say “If that Baron puts one finger in my ring I’m calling the police.” 

In a fleeting reference to the show’s title Nigel Havers is also back — in a Daddy Bear costume — as this panto’s longest running joke, the cast member who so desperately wants to be in the show no role is too small.

Slightly further down the billing is The One Show presenter Matt Baker as Joey, The Clown. This is probably his first non-TV gig since his on-air teary farewell to the BBC show. Here he somersaults, walks a tight rope and bends over a lot so that Clary can repeatedly hit him on the bottom with a golfing stick, all performed with geniality an on stage charisma that prove his talents definitely lie in TV. 

But the secret ingredient of Palladium panto is variety and music hall — something that was once no secret at all. The mainstay  is ventriloquist Paul Zerdin and his snarky sidekick Sam while Mysterioso the magician conjures live doves out of thin air and Italian rollerskating acrobats twirl like a handkerchief on spin dry. 

But the act that has to be seen to be believed is the motorbike stunt riders. All the action takes place in a see-through metal globe that makes the Wall of Death look like a hobby for the risk-averse. No less forgettable are the giant circus animals that must come from the same part of the planet as King Kong. Showbiz at its showiest. 

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