He’s back in Greenwich and he’s right back on form. The grand doyenne of panto, Mr Andrew Pollard has returned from his tour of Around The World In 80 Days last year to remind us why he’s been at the helm of South East London’s favourite seasonal show for more than a decade. This year’s offering, Robinson Crusoe delivers belly laughs a-plenty that’ll make the little’uns squeal and the adults howl in equal measure.
Greenwich Theatre once again prove they know how to do Christmas better than Santa Claus.
In his 14th stint as writer and 12th as the dame, Pollard has yet again created a bespoke tale for a Greenwich audience. Robinson Crusoe starts at Deptford Docks, where dashing young Robinson (Matt Jolly) discovers his late father’s treasure map in the claws of a crab (You're making up your own jokes already, aren't you?). He bumps into his soon-to-be love-interest Polly Perkins (Michaela Bennison), daughter of Captain Wally Windblower (Tom Guest) who is skipper of the ship Saucy Nancy with a figurehead that springs to life (Lizzy Dive). Scheming to steal the treasure map is pirate Gingerbeard, played by serial Greenwich panto villain, Anthony Spargo, channelling an even camper Jack Sparrow than Johnny Depp could muster. Mistress of ceremonies is, of course, Pollard as Robinson’s mother, Delores ‘Dolly’ Crusoe – the flamboyant nucleus of this show with an endless supply of outrageous costumes and even more outrageous one-liners.
As always with the Christmas show at Greenwich, production values are high. Cleo Pettitt’s big beautiful sets and spot-on use of the revolve transport us from Deptford, to the High Seas and even to New Mexico – where our protagonists land following a particularly severe storm to meet the Chief-without-a-tribe, Man Friday (Arabella Rodrigo) and the Terrible Trump (Don't worry, Brexit gets a mention too). The staging is aided by exceptional lighting design by Max Blackman, making me think they can’t have left an inch of bare pole in the rig. Musical Director Steve Markwick manages to make the modest three-piece band sound like an orchestra, filling the auditorium with recognisable tune after tune.
Up and down the country at this time of year you’ll see cookie-cutter pantos that have come out of a storage facility, cast with a B-list celebrity or two and run by a faceless corporate office that micro manage a ‘brand’. This is not that, and it’s all the better for it. You could tell Pollard was pushing the humour to its limits tonight, with ad-libs that would probably get him fired if he attempted them elsewhere – but Pollard knows exactly how to pitch it and what his audience will let him get away with. There are ensemble dancers in tight hot pants; a torrent of smutty innuendoes and Les Mis-style waving of the Gay Pride flag, but delivered in such a way that sits happily next to the whole auditorium doing the Baby Shark dance. It's sublime.
If you want a hilarious, family-friendly, intelligent and truly local panto, it really doesn’t get much better than this. Greenwich Theatre once again prove they know how to do Christmas better than Santa Claus.