It is the glittering jewel in the proverbial Pantoland crown. Every year the Birmingham Hippodrome is hailed as the biggest and best and as ever this year no expense has been spared.
This year it is all about the starry line up with the big coup being the panto debut of housewife favourite Gok Wan. He can’t act or dance and he most certainly can’t sing, but who cares when he is as full of boundless enthusiasm as a puppy in a toilet roll factory! From the second he flamboyantly arrives in fabulous style on his flying mirror the audience scream their (mainly female) admiration as if he is some kind of megastar.
There follows a relentless array of names making entrances and vying for stage time. West End stalwart John Partridge offers us an all singing all dancing Prince, just about as camp and in your face as they come. Danielle Hope as Snow White sings well but lacks the stage presence of those around her whilst Stephanie Beacham mixes evil with glamour as Queen Sadista with just a hint of Sable Colby.
Gary Wilmott making his first outing as Dame never gets into full comic flow, however he does manage to slow the pace right down when he sings of the love he has for his two sons, a beautifully poignant moment. Paul Zerdin touts his very slick ventriloquist act via the ever popular puppet Sam and excels when using real members of the audience as puppets for our amusement.
The man that unashamedly steals the show however is the whirlwind that is Matt Slack. Slack has a charm with the audience and a fearless comic timing that simply bubbles with joy every time he walks on.
The trouble is that with all these people jockeying for position something has to give, and in this case it is the story. It almost seems to take a backseat in order to let everybody onstage do their bit. With a flying dragon to fit in as well as seven cleverly designed dwarves this is a bumper panto, but not one that wins on every score.