“Spread the word that panto is back!” shouts panto legend Matt Slack, just before the final number of this year’s Hippodrome panto Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

After a locked-down Christmas in 2020, it’s fantastic to be back in pantoland this year. The opening number promised to have the audience ‘cheering all evening’. And they were right.

The show tells the story of Dame Betty Barnham (Andrew Ryan), her son Ringo the Ringmaster (Matt Slack), her daughter Goldilocks (Samantha Dorrance) and their circus, which is under threat from an evil rival circus owner (Jason Donovan).

Jason Donovan is noticeably revelling in his panto debut as Count Ramsay of Erinsborough. For someone who’s not grown up around panto, he fits right in as he banters with Matt Slack. There’s plenty of entertaining Neighbours and Joseph references too – in case you didn’t already know that the world-famous Australian was making an appearance in the show.

Birmingham panto stalwart Matt Slack is as fantastic as ever, returning for his eighth consecutive year in Birmingham and his 21st pantomime. His energy is unmatched as he bounds across the stage making quips and donning outrageous outfits. At one point, he sings a cover of Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas? while impersonating a myriad of A-list celebrities, from David Attenborough to Donald Trump. There’s a reason he’s a panto legend.

Doreen Tipton – aka Queen of the Black Country – is equally hilarious as the Lazy Lion Tamer, her unique humour all the more amusing for its contrast with the rest of the panto cast.

There are enough sequins, feathers ad ruffles in this show to rival Strictly, and most of them come from Betty Barnham’s flamboyant costumes. The outfits become progressively more outlandish until she appears on stage wearing a replica of her own circus tent, complete with a Betty Barnham figurine attached to the front.

Also thrown into the mix are a number of impressive circus acts and magic tricks. Pierre Marchand is enchanting to watch as he performs stunts with his diabolos, not only because of his impressive talent but also because of the look of pure joy on his face the entire time.

And when Mysterioso (Phil Hitchcock) produces three doves from thin air only to make them vanish again, you can’t help but believe in magic.

Goldilocks and the Three Bears has everything you could possibly want in a panto, with physical comedy, audience participation and plenty of risqué humour for the adults. There are a few topical references to a certain party in No. 10 too, as well as the appearance of a primate called Boris.

It’s safe to say Birmingham panto is back with a bang. But be warned – if you’re sitting in the front row, you might get wet!

Five stars

Reviewed by Ellie Hutchings on 21 December 

Goldilocks and the Three Bears shows at Birmingham Hippodrome until Sunday 30 January 2022