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  • Miles Hedley

ROBINSON CRUSOE at Greenwich Theatre

What possible connection is there between Brexit, Donald Trump, dentistry, TV academic Mary Beard and Christmas? The answer – of course – is Andrew Pollard’s annual panto extravaganza at Greenwich Theatre.

This year he has gone back into the archives and given us his version of Robinson Crusoe, a panto favourite in Victorian times, and it is without doubt as good as anything he has done before.

Pollard not only writes and directs but also stars in this fabulous show as the hero’s mum Dolly, a shellfish seller at Deptford docks.

During the course of two hours of gag-a-minute fun, he and the rest of the cast lampoon everything and everyone in the news today while never losing sight of the fact that this is at heart a Christmas treat for the whole family.

The laughter and cheers of the 300-plus children at the performance I saw, at 10 o’clock on a wet November morning, were the best possible proof of how well they achieved that.

Anthony Spago, who has become Greenwich’s traditional panto villain, was magnificent as pirate king Gingerbeard, a cross between Captain Jack Sparrow and Harold Steptoe that had kids and adults booing and hissing every time he walked on stage.

And the rest of the cast were just as good. Matt Jolly as our hero Robinson and Michaela Bennison as his true love Polly were suitably dashing and somehow managed to keep a straight face as they swashed their buckles through the increasingly madcap action.

Tom Guest and Lizzy Dive were irrepressible as Captain Wally Windblower – cue any number of gags! – and ship’s figurehead Saucy Nancy.

And Arabella Rodrigo hit all the right notes with her amazing singing as sky-goddess Nimbus and as Native American Manotopha.

She also had a wonderful little cameo as Gingerbeard’s mother Mary Beard who prattled on endlesslessly about history.

Full marks too to the ensemble of Sarah Dare, Ejiro Richmond, Mia Yuill and James-Paul McAllister, who never missed a beat in the song-and-dance routines.

Speaking of which, the live music was as much a star of the show as the script and cast.

Musical director and pianist Steve Markwick, guitarist Gordon Parrish and drummer Chris Wyles were pitch-perfect as they played a score that included original songs and thunderous covers ranging from the Rolling Stones’ Sympathy For The Devil to the Dolly Parton-Kenny Rogers’ classic Islands In The Stream.

And the set and costumes by Cleo Pettitt beautifully captured the seasonal silliness of the show.

But in the end it’s the jokes that had the packed house calling for more.

I won’t spoil it for you but the dentist sketch is one of the funniest things I’ve ever witnessed on a stage.

There were any number of terrific gags about contemporary issues such as Brexit, a side-splitting sequence featuring the President of the United States, a neat nod to comedy legend Max Wall’s association with Greenwich Theatre and – naturally – an almost non-stop onslaught of puns.

I don’t know how this panto could possible be any better. I do know, however, that you’d be crazy not to see it before it closes on January 13.

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