Robinson Crusoe and the Caribbean Pirates

Brian Conley and Michael Harrison
Qdos Entertainment
Birmingham Hippodrome

Andrew Ryan (Mrs Crusoe), Kathryn Rooney (Polly) and Brian Conley (Robinson Crusoe) Credit: Keith Pattison
Lesley Joseph (Enchantress of the Ocean) Credit: Keith Pattison
Gavin Woods (Blackheart) and Ensemble (Pirates) Credit: Keith Pattison

The Birmingham Hippodrome is widely regarded as Britain’s biggest pantomime and with spectacle and sparkle in abundance, this year’s production of Robinson Crusoe and the Caribbean Pirates sees Vegas meet Pantoland with Brian Conley MCing proceedings in the title role.

Robinson Crusoe marks Conley’s sixth pantomime at the Hippodrome, a theatre he cites as “the best in the world.” There is no doubting that Conley is a wonderful pantomime performer, full of energy and razzamatazz, but this year’s production, also co-penned by his fair hand, might well have been called the Conley Crusoe Cabaret.

The pantomime’s plot is simple: Crusoe is handed a treasure map and sets off to seek it before Blackheart the Pirate, played by a menacing Gavin Woods, gets his dirty hands on the treasure. In order to flesh the narrative out to a full length show of sumptuous glitz and glamour, musical numbers and set-pieces courtesy of Conley come thick and fast.

There are so many added extras that it is difficult to comprehend exactly how many pieces make up this pantomime jigsaw. The audience is bombarded with diversions to the plot and left exhausted as Robinson Crusoe becomes a live Christmas edition of The Brian Conley Show, providing ample opportunity for him to sing, dance and do just about anything else he so desires.

Shouts of “It’s a puppet!” ring out and Dangerous Brian manages to make an appearance whilst the crew sail the seven seas in their search for treasure. Conley even upstages a troupe of Cossack dancers who suddenly appear on the desert island and is often handed a microphone to give the panto a more concert-like feel.

The atmosphere is electric, but entertainment overload comprising dwarf Michael Jackson impressions, flying cars and monsters and naughty trees leaves one dazed and confused. Some pantomime staples are still present, but in 2012, given recent events, jokes encompassing themes such as Eastern European immigration, shootings and suicide come across as rather misjudged and in poor taste.

In amongst the high octane dancing and singing, the cast prove their panto pedigree with Lesley Joseph giving her majestic Enchantress of the Ocean driving what little narrative there is with a series of spells. Andrew Ryan’s Dame, Mrs Crusoe, is an outrageous delight in equally outrageous costumes and in her third consecutive Hippodrome panto Kathryn Rooney manages to soldier on with her sprightly Polly even when confronted with apple being spat all over her face.

Robinson Crusoe and the Caribbean Pirates continues the Hippodrome’s reign as “Britain‘s Biggest Pantomime”, but this year’s production is most definitely a case of star and spectacle over story.

Reviewer: Simon Sladen