Review: The York Family Robinson - York Theatre Royal

This show gets weirder by the second” declares Dame Berwick Kaler part way through the second act – and he is not wrong, but this show is weird in a brilliantly entertaining and inspired way!

Kaler has torn up and re-written the panto rule book countless times during his time at the Theatre Royal.  This time, rules of any sort do not apply as he steers away from the established panto stories to present an entirely original tale in a production which allows his fertile imagination to run riot with hilarious results.

Berwick Kaler
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 The plot is not important – though strangely this year it does seem to be more involved than is traditional here. This is all about great characters, wonderful set pieces and laughing from start to finish.  The action goes from one scenario to another, even across continents, and gives you everything you could ask for in a panto – from a wonderfully performed (though water free) slapstick scene to an ultra-violet dance routine and a fantastic group of young cast members with their own gags and songs.

This panto surely must be able to claim a few features unique amongst the many playing across the country.  Where else will you get ballet, multiple cases of cross dressing and Britannia (as in she who rules the waves) as a fairy?  They literally throw in the kitchen sink. Not to mention one very surreal moment featuring Savage the Dog that got me crying with laughter!

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The core team will be familiar to regular York panto goers; Martin Barrass and Suzy Cooper reprise their roles as the Dame’s two children, David Leonard is still one of the best baddies in pantoland, and then there is A J Powell as the Dames long lost Brummie son, Julie-Anna Castro as Man Friday and Sian Howard as Britannia.  Add to that a marvellous ensemble who not only sing and dance but also put in cameo acting performances to add depth to the show – especially Jamie Harris as the camp, but perfectly English, Jolly Roger.

It seems terrible to sum the cast up so briefly but, despite Dame Berwick being right at the centre of all things, this is a truly ensemble piece where everyone is superb and therefore the overall results are truly special.

And then there are the sets, costumes, lights and music.  The clever and inventive sets are impressive in their scale and colourfulness and, when coupled with an extensive range of wonderful costumes, mean there is never a dull moment visually.  This is underlined by lovely lightening design that will be noticed by all – not just theatre aficionados. Music of course plays a big part of any panto and here original music mixes seamlessly with more familiar songs and strikes the right balance.

This review could go on endlessly if I were to list all that I enjoyed about this exceptional show.  One of the true delights is that, as this is a new story, even adults can enjoy not knowing what will happen next and that really is magical.  In a show so full of ideas, it would be so easy for it to feel like a collection of separate thoughts but somehow it all seems to fit together and works perfectly.

This is a show for all – plenty of visual gags for the bairns and varied comedy (but never of the crass or smutty nature) for the adults. I simply cannot recommend The York Family Robinson any more highly.  Do yourself a big favour and get yourself a ticket one way or another to what must be one of the best pantos in the land!

The York Family Robinson runs until 4th February 2012

Review by James Eaglesfield