bed trio

Samantha Dorrance as Goldilocks, Doreen Tipton as the Lazy Lion Tamer and Andrew Ryan as Dame Betty Barnum trying out the three bear's beds

Goldilocks and the Three Bears

Birmingham Hippodrome


In the words of Matt Slack, Panto is back. Oh, yes it is, and it is back at the Hippodrome with a sparkling show to light up the darkest days of winter, guaranteed full of laughs and fun.

This is Goldilocks and the three bears meets Barnham, packed with glitz, glamour, jokes ancient and modern, laughs a plenty, circus and variety acts and all wrapped up on a set bright and flashy enough to keep the national grid on its toes.

Matt Slack has become as traditional as turkey when it comes to Christmas in Birmingham with that rare talent of the gifted performers to generate his own electricity; you feel the audience come alive as soon as he walks on stage.

This year he is Ringo the Ringmaster – although to be honest you can give him any name you like, in any panto you fancy, to a Hippodrome audience he is always Matt Slack in a different costume, irreverent, risqué, funny and their best mate up on stage, the rebel not taking anything seriously, messing about and having a laugh – it's an act that probably takes hours of rehearsal.

And panto has to have a baddy so step up Jason Donovan as Count Ramsay of Erinsborough (one for Neighbours’ fans there) in his first venture into panto – and he is magnificent, fully deserving his star billing, taking to it as a duck to water. Looking like Jack Sparrow's evil cousin he revels in the role of baddy, evil as you like yet still full of fun in his exchanges with Slack.

matt Slack as Ringo

Matt Slack as Ringo . . . this time round

Every panto needs a dame, so put your hands together for one of the best around, Andrew Ryan, as circus owner Dame Betty Barnum whose costumes become ever more outrageous with every entrance – and he, or is it she, has a lot of them.

Making an appearance, if she could be asked, was Doreen Tipton as, well as, Doreen (the chances are she couldn’t be bothered to remember another name) who has got a job as the lazy lion tamer - just don't tell the benefits office. She apparently misread the form and thought it said lie-in, the only thing she is actually qualified for. Even she got into the spirit of things, dancing and singing - when she could be bothered.

Panto also needs a goody, in this case Goldilocks, who would make a real mess of the title if we missed her out and Wolverhampton’s Samantha Dorrance, fits the bill perfectly. She is pretty, can sing, dance and is full of innocence and endless enthusiasm.

We even have a second goody in the shape of Candy Floss, played by Birmingham’s own Alexia McIntosh who has spent three years as Anna of Cleaves in Six in the West End. So, it was a pity we did not hear more of her fine voice.

And every panto needs three bears – well it does if it has Goldilocks in the title - with Ewan Goddard as Daddy bear, Georgia Anderson as Mummy Bear and Jessica Daugirda as the tap dancing Baby Bear who you suspect has to be poured out of her bulky, padded, furry, bear costume at the end of each performance.

And speaking of costumes director Michael Harrison and Mike Coltman in charge of speciality costumes seem to have emptied the dressing up cupboard of everything they could find and then some. We have giraffes, zebras, every circus costume you could think of and even a pair of ballet dancing hippos that tutu across the stage as the punch line of a joke.

Jason Donovan

Jason Donovan as the count, the evil neighbour of Betty Barnum's circus 

And remember the circus bit, well, that brought in sawdust ring acts from aerialists The Gemini Sisters, Kizzy and Tilly Packham from Norfolk, who do things hanging from a trapeze sane people would not even attempt with their feet on the floor. They perhaps deserved a better showing than a background to a Jason Donovan song. 

No background role for Corsican Pierre Marchand though, on his first performance in England. He is a diablo act, those double cone wheels driven by two sticks and string - except this is Diablos on steroids and speed in a mesmerising display that has made him the toast of Paris and one of the top circus acts in the world. Spellbinding stuff especially as the stage is plunged into darkness and we see glowing diablos tracing intricate patterns and being thrown high into the flies.

For petrolheads there is also Peter Pavlov and his Globe of Speed, which involves, in this case, two motorcyclists criss-crossing at breakneck speed inside a steel mesh globe in an act where bruises and broken bones are just part of the job. It is one of the most dangerous acts in circus with the name Globe of Death as it is known in many parts of the world, one that is well earned.

Less dangerous, unless you are a dove of course, is Phil Hitchcock appearing as magician The Magical Mysterioso. We all know magic is illusion . . . it is isn’t it? But I defy anyone to work out how Hitchcock manages any of his tricks from the appearance of Goldilocks from thin air, controlling a floating globe of fire and most baffling of all, the appearance from nothing and disappearance into nowhere of doves, including their cages.

Doreen tipton

Doreen as the lazy cow syndrome sufferer and lion tamer

And then we have the special effects from The Twins FX with a giant animated gorilla, sea lion and lion in the Count’s Circus of Horrors to Doreen sitting atop a huge elephant soaring out over the audience. Nothing whatsoever to do with the storyline (yes, apparently there was a plot somewhere in there) but it was spectacular and left the children wide eyed with wonder.

Ian Westbrook and Ben Cracknell, the set and lighting designers were, you suspect, being paid by the watt with enough lights to produce a show that could be seen from space, probably consuming enough energy to power a small country, while if there is a shortage of pyrotechnics (from Le Maitre) next year anyone who has seen this flash, bang, wallop of a show will know why. It makes 5 November look second rate.

And steady as a rock amid the mayhem was a hard working ensemble, up to their necks in costume changes, providing some classy dancing (choreography Karen Bruce) including a 1940’s style tap routine, although I don’t recall Fred Astaire actually having a bear in one of his appearances . . . all carried along with a seven piece orchestra, sounding much larger then their number, under musical director Robert Willis,

We had the usual word play and snatches of pop songs routine from Matt Slack, played out with the wonderful Jason Donovan and instead of the Twelve days of Christmas – perhaps they could not find five toilet rolls on depleted supermarket shelves – we had an If I were not upon the stage routine with the Count, Ringo, Doreen and Betty, with Ringo being punched, trunctioned, cricket batted and frying panned for good measure, and good laughs.

Note: wear a mac if you are sitting anywhere near the front during this routine.

The plot might have been wafer thin, even for panto, which hardly rivals Ibsen at the best of times, but there was nothing lightweight about the fun and the laughs.

My grandchildren, aged six and 10, loved it, their favourites being Matt Slack and the magician. Their verdict was a definite five, and who am I to argue, after all panto is for children, and for many it is their first glimpse of the wonderful magical world of theatre. Get it right and they are the performers and audiences of the future.

A point made by Matt Slack with a heartfelt and serious speech at the end of the show thanking the audience for coming out to support the Hippodrome and theatres in general in these dark and worrying times, and he thanked the audience for wearing masks and following the Covid rules.

And mask wearing, now law remember, was much more in evidence on Press night, but still not universal though. There are those few poor souls who are medically exempt from mask wearing but despite the Hippodrome, to its credit, doing all it possibly can to keep audiences, staff, cast and crew safe, there will always be those who decide rules are for other people and don't apply to them.

Rant over. Midland theatres have all returned with a sparkling bang for the festive season and Goldilocks completes the set.

Slack said that the show had been put together in just two weeks, which is quite remarkable, especially to produce what is a real Christmas cracker, a night of glorious entertainment, pure escapism from the dark days of the past two years, a panto full of daft, glorious fun to herald in a New Year and a new hope for the months ahead. To 30-01-22.

Roger Clarke


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