Robin Hood And The Babes in The Wood, Those Magic Beans, York Barbican, until December 31, except Christmas Day. Box office: 0844 854 2757 or at

THIS is the first Christmas pantomime at York Barbican since 2012 and producer Jamie Alexander Wilson's company Those Magic Beans has signed on the dotted line already to return next winter with Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs.

Wilson, a self-confessed pantomime nerd, has put plenty into providing an alternative to Dame Berwick at York Theatre Royal and, more pertinently, Three Bears Productions' second panto year at the Grand Opera House, bringing with him a combination of eye-catching pop and soap casting, school visits and a you-can't-miss-it promotional campaign.

So far, so good, for the new outlaw in town, but Wilson's Robin Hood will stand or fall on how much magic is in his beans in the last of York's big three pantos to open and the one with the shortest run too. Hence the three shows – once the panto norm, but rarely so now – on the opening day to whisk everything into shape.

A black curtain was pulled across the upper seating last night, a sensible step to provide more intimacy, given the difficult challenge of selling 1,500 seats per show. Crucially too, Wilson has sought to make the Barbican a more theatrical space with an orchestra pit built into the set design, with pretty flats and film projections behind for the forest, rather than conventional scenery.

This is a modern flourish, if somewhat functional, and it enables quick scene changes in a show built on high energy levels. The cast must make do with a floor space that is shallower than ideal, leading to many scenes being delivered all in a line, although choreographer Kerry Turner utilises every inch for ensemble numbers featuring intermediate and juvenile dancers too. Maybe the stage could be built out further to facilitate more depth next year.

York Press:

Jaz Ellington's Friar Tuck with Ricky Norwood's Silly Billy Scarlett. Picture: Simon Cossons

In keeping with so many commercial pantomimes, the jokes, the songs, the slapstick and the set-piece routines hold sway over storytelling dialogue, seemingly the hardest part of a panto to pull off when rehearsal time is a tight squeeze.

Consequently, writer-producer Wilson banks on the personality of his very diverse performers to drive his show, with Ricky Norwood, formerly Fatboy in the miserable EastEnders, leading the japes as cheeky Londoner Silly Billy Scarlett, and Brookside's Michael Starke settling in steadily, if unspectacularly, as a not-too-saucy Scouse dame (Nurse Nelly) for the first time since the Eighties.

Away from the comic cornerstones, Wilson's strongest hand is his array of singers, from The Voice's powerhouse Jaz Ellington as a benign Friar Tuck to Anna ("Lolly") Kumble's Fairy of the Forest; from A1's Ben Adams, as Robin Hood, adapting the chorus of Nina Simone's Feeling Good to "And I'm Robin Hood" to his duet with composed and confident Tadcaster professional debutante Beth Stevens' Maid Marian for (Everything I Do) I Do It For You.

Ever enthusiastic Ben Ofoedu's towering Little John has fun pleading with Shane Lynch's killjoy Sheriff of Nottingham to sing his Phats & Small hits, but ironically when he finally does so, the stop-start arrangement kills off his big moment.

In turn, you might want to plead with Shane Lynch to do a big number – given his lead billing and Boyzone history, it is surely a missed opportunity – but he restricts himself to a couple of late ensemble numbers. Here he is the bad lad of the piece, not the boy-band pop star, and his menacing Irish Sheriff of Notsining'em is good value, dark of mood, physically imposing, quick witted too.

Wilson's show is blessed with the pop essential of a good sound system (by Jake Johnson) to show off Ollie Kaiper-Leach's band, Joe Martin's trumpet et al; Shane Button's lighting is excellent too, again suiting the musical showpieces. Elsewhere, however, there is a far-too-gooey song about children and the show loses momentum in the second act, typified by the ghost scene being a drag by comparison with the first act's well executed slapstick routine.