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Review: The York Family Robinson, York Theatre Royal, until February 4
BERWICK Kaler was never a has-bean, of course not, but last winter’s Jack And The Beanstalk did affirm he now responds best to unchartered waters.
In his 33rd Theatre Royal pantomime, Dame Berwick takes to the high seas and high wire in an entirely original show, having jettisoned pretty much everything but the shipwreck storyline from Robinson Crusoe and The Swiss Family Robinson.
In sitcom convention, he has bent his script around serving the characteristics of the Theatre Royal’s roster of regulars, both human and animal (the dog on a stick, crocodile and meerkat from past shows and this year’s new addition, the flea, an old panto favourite).
We start in Whitby, Dame Berwick’s Annie Robinson riding a dinosaur (in acknowledgement of turning 65), while son and daugher Jim and Rosie, Martin Barrass and Suzy Cooper, do battle inside a shared llama costume.
A plot remains as far off as the horizon, but executive director Liz Wilson has come up with a new “p” word for what Berwick does provide: purpose, and there is indeed comic momentum to a show built loosely around villainous Zantanus Junior (David Leonard’s son of the devil) and his search for the devil’s potent missing horn. Thankfully, Leonard’s own mojo is still working, along with his gyrating hip and cruel quip on the lip.
Leonard’s Zantanus Junior meets his match in Sian Howard’s regal Britannia (“she rules the waves, he waives the rules,” she scoffs). Since returning to the Theatre Royal panto after a long hiatus, Howard has become one of its gems, combining warmth and a mum-knows-best firmness with dancer’s legs and bags of fun (especially when she later plays Aussie outback guru Shelia).
Into the story are weaved AJ Powell’s luvverly Brummie Robinson Caruso and musical theatre actress Julie-Anna Castro, restored to the ranks after her absence last year and now given her most fulfilling role yet as a Man Friday – in reality a glamorous girl with erratic powers of the English language. Her comeback is more than justified.
The show’s emerging talent is the freshly scrubbed Jamie Harris, whose camp cameos in the dance ensemble now blossom into the full-scale Jolly Roger, a gay blade just out of drama school with pucker enthusiasm for every challenge. He has a touch of the Carry Ons to his comic timing and Kaler and co-director Damian Cruden will surely make even more of him next year.
Add the gold dust of Cooper (her Rosie defying her vocal cords not feeling so rosy) and the goofiness of Barrass and this is the ideal Theatre Royal panto cast, to go with Phil R Daniels and Charles Cusick Smith’s ever fabulous sets and costumes and the choreographic polish of Nicola Boyd Anderson.
Two setpieces, the first-half’s outstanding bedroom of surprises and a Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert pastiche during the all-Australian second half, are among Kaler’s best ever, and at last he has shown the tired old water slapsick the door in favour of high-wire antics.
The show raids Spamalot for a couple of numbers, borrows one from Priscilla too, and watch out for Kaler’s Wicked Witch parody from The Wizard Of Oz. Dead funny.
Back at the top of his dame game, here’s to you Mrs Robinson and your big happy family.
The York Family Robinson, York Theatre Royal, until February 4 2012. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk