(reviewed at the Cliffs Pavilion, Southend on 13 December)
If you’re a paid-up members of the Brian Conley fan-club, you’ll probably revel in this extended cabartet act. If you’re not, then you might have probelms with this not altogether family-friendly pantomime. Yes, there is a story (when Conley allows it to intrude) and several performers who manage to hold their own.
I defy anyone to come between Davbid Robbins’ Mrs Crusoe and his/her audience. Alex Bourne’s swashbuckling villain of pirate captain Blqckheart and a woefully underused Suzy Bastone (Polly), who has a very good voice, an engaging personality and really doesn’t deserve to be Conley’s fall-guy.
The actual production values are first-rate; good special effects, lavish costumes for the ensemble and forceful choreography by Elliot Nixon. There is a proper script (Michael Harrison) and what could have been integrated direction from Kathryn Rooney. The Twins FX arte responsible for a superb Kraken which looms out over the audience towards the end of the first act. Musical direction is by David Lane and the effective set designs are by Ian Westbrook.
And of course there’s Gok Wan as the Spirit of the Ocean, all sea-shell glitter and sparkle. Wan employs a clever mixture of borderline camp with the ability to hold his own on-stage whoever is trying to “throw him”; his scenes with Conley are an object lesson in how to fight your own (stage right) corner. All in all, this is a curate’s egg of a Christmas show, one which could be thoroughly enjoyable given a title character prepared to give as well as take.
Robinson Crusoe & the Pirates of the Caribbean runs at the Cliffs Pavilion, Southend until 8 January. Check the theatre’s websites (thecliffspavilion.co.uk/southendtheatres.org.uk) for performance times.