Robinson Crusoe and the Pirate Queen is a dream panto. Not only is it being performed in one of the country's most attractive theatres, but its swashbuckling fun was in evidence, even as excited theatre goers of all ages stepped out of the dark night's rain.
Ticket staff and ushers wore eye patches and piratical costumes, bar staff whipped cutlasses out of their cummerbunds, and a rope net hung high above the interval drinkers held a gruesome skeleton of an unlucky mariner.
As Saucy Nancy, the ship's figurehead (nubile Jessica Dyas) enticed us closer, the adventure began. Strong casting by producer Emily Moser, faultless pace, fine sets and colourful costumes complemented Andrew Pollard's script and musical director Ollie Birch's music and lyrics.
Director John Terry's cast could sing, dance and ad-lib with gusto. Their good humoured repartee with the audience established a warm interaction from the beginning, as they greeted guides, WI members and named children in the audience. This enthusiasm was put to energetic use, with numerous call-outs, stand ups and sing-a-longs – the audience never sat still for long!
Craig Rhys Barlow's Robinson Crusoe was a hugely likeable hero, whose romance with the delicious Hon. Polly Perkins (Emilia Williams) was touching in technicolour. Betty 'Bad Dog' Babcock (Kali Hughes) was a fizzing, flamboyant Pirate Queen, while Jean-Luke Worrell's Manatopha aka 'Friday' effortlessly commanded our respect for his exemplary values. A tour de force by Andrew Pepper as Mrs Camilla Crusoe, the lovelorn widow with a ship's hold full of vitality, bursting to find expression in her salty basques and seagull head gear (Emily Stuart's designs) added ambition and drive to the journey.
Camilla's duet with gruff love interest Captain Wallace Windblower (twinkly Robert Maskell) over the fish cart was wonderfully inventive. So, too, designer Russell Craig's gorgeous underwater scene, culminating in a glorious apotheosis for Mrs Crusoe.
The eager participation of local children as the Pippins, comprising of the Blasted Blue Barnacles, the Red Rubber Duckies and the Green Gogglers added youthful zest to the stage – their versatility and confidence a delight to behold.
It was all a panto should be – and more. Hurry out of the cold to enjoy.