Friday, 30 December 2022

REVIEW: Goldilocks and the Three Bears at the Mayflower Theatre, Southampton

When you produce a show built around star names and their past performances to attract the crowd, you are left with some difficulty when that star is indisposed and can’t appear leaving a gaping void that is hard for even the best understudy to fill. So, when the Count Ramsey of Erinsborough walked on stage in the opening scene to speak his opening lines in an Australian accent there was a gasp of disappointment as 2000 people immediately realised that Jason Donovan had succumbed to the cold, he had highlighted on a recent TV interview. James-Lee Harris filled those shows well but without Donavan’s stage presence and interaction with the rest of the cast it did feel a bit flat. To make matters worse this title is short on story, as the Dame remarked when another bit of pantomime business was over, “get back to the plot, thin as it is”. 

So, it is left to Richard Cadell to entertain the audience in his own variety show dressed as Joey the clown. He is a curious mixture of “handler” of the glove puppets Sooty, Sweep and Soo, Magician and illusionist with his assistant Sarah Jane Lowe and old-fashioned comedy stooge. His Trunk of truth and Chapel Bell's routines that focus attention on his private parts would have embarrassed Soo if she had appeared. His routines with Sooty and Sweep (who of course don’t speak) are a little lost on the enormous Mayflower stage but at least the good old water pistols were used to comic effect by Sweep as he cried all over the front rows! He interacted well with the audience and the Dame, Adam Strong, in the chat-up routine but was at his best with two young children in the songsheet treading brilliantly the balance between getting laughs and upsetting the young kids. When he asked the young boy the easy question “What do you find in a CHEESE sandwich” and the lad replied “Pickle” it deservedly got the biggest laugh of the night.

The Goldilocks and three bears title is more a variety show than a pantomime and the circus setting becomes a vehicle for those acts to naturally appear. Being a big production value show there were plenty of animals on show from the opening Gorilla, Lion and Seal lion balancing a ball, to zebras crossing the stage without a punchline, and a Hippo pirouetting, as well as giraffes and a dancing elephant. Most spectacular was Goldilocks riding on an enormous Nellie elephant for no obvious reason except that they had one in stock. But the variety was provided by Rola Rola, a balancing act and The Skating Sensations (you guessed it, a roller-skating act) and of course by Cadell’s illusions. These illusions rely on the presentation, sharp lighting and misdirection and seemed rushed. His opening appearance behind a large letter, his motorbike stunt, his appearance in a ring of fire and then various escapes with his assistant from boxes all failed to leave you wondering how they were done or lacked jeopardy and drama.

Goldilocks played by Faye Brooks was the ringmaster and joined in most of the business giving the 12 days of Christmas a freshness as she teased the Count as he appeared to stumble through the hectic routine. They had at least updated the words from the tired version performed elsewhere and incorporated other business with stage lights and back clothes which added to a routine that never fails to delight the audiences. She also gets to propose to Joey at the end in another modern update!

There was plenty of energy and effort on stage not least from an excellent ensemble of nine in chorus and the three bears in their huge wobbly costumes but ultimately the show relies on Jason Donavan and Richard Cadell to provide the entertainment and without Donovan the burden fell on Cadell who did a very good job but just not quite as good as last year’s wonderful Buttons in Cinderella at the same venue nor as good as the production of the same title at Richmond this year. Nevertheless, despite Donovan’s absence, the Southampton audience enjoyed the Boxing Day show, and I am sure felt they got their money’s worth, even those Cadell picked on in the expensive boxes!

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★★

Seat: Stalls, Row S | Price of Ticket: £29.50

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