One day, Qdos Entertainment and LW Theatres will give in and just name their annual panto at the London Palladium ‘The Julian Clary Show’. They get closer to it with ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears’, which, storywise, barely exists beyond Clary’s impeccably raised eyebrow. As the Ringmaster, he glides through this show in a series of incredible outfits, verbally skewering everyone and everything with well-honed skill. His comic criticisms of the production around him feel almost like a real-time on-stage review.
The flimsy frame for this year’s seasonal spectacular is the scheming of the evil Baron Von Savage (Paul O’Grady) – brother to Lily, of course – to destroy the visiting circus of competitor Betty Barnum (Gary Wilmot). There’s only room for his Circus of Nightmares.
The titular bears – Daddy Bear played by Nigel Havers and Mummy Bear by ex-‘Benidorm’ actress Janine Duvitski – don’t show up until almost half an hour in and their actual role in the plot, such as it is, stays shaky at best. Lauren Stroud’s Baby Bear wants to be a circus star for… reasons. Goldilocks’s home invasion and porridge-eating are quickly done and forgotten.
There’s the increasingly tired, annual in-joke about Havers returning to the Palladium panto when no really wants him to. Clary and O’Grady get in some fun verbal sparring. And Wilmot, who otherwise feels underused this year, sings an impressive mash-up of musical numbers.
The traditional panto bits that writer and director Michael Harrison includes are messily tacked on, like a barely-sketched, last-minute romance between Sophie Isaacs’s perma-smiley Goldilocks and Joey the Clown (played by Matt Baker with the puppyish enthusiasm of an ex-‘Blue Peter’ presenter and soon to be ex-‘The One Show’ host). Much of this feels like seasonal box-ticking to partly fudge the fact that this time around, more than ever, with the circus setting as the perfect excuse, this is more variety show than panto.
If you accept it on those terms, though, it’s impressive. You’ll have no idea how much you’ve needed motorbikes zooming around a metal sphere in your life until you’ve seen Peter Pavlov and the Globe of Speed. The Marvellous Mysterioso, meanwhile, definitely lives up to his name. Ventriloquist Paul Zerdin, a Palladium panto regular, does extraordinary things with his mouth as Silly Billy.
‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears’ is not a cheap ticket, but if you can afford it, this is an eye-popping extravaganza, pulling together international acts that are genuinely jaw-dropping.