Review: York Family Robinson ****

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York Theatre Royal

The law of averages suggests that one Christmas, Berwick Kaler is going to produce an absolute turkey. Thankfully, it’s not this year.

The writer of York Theatre Royal’s panto and mother of all dames is once again on top form with York Family Robinson the usual mix of slapstick, knowing gags and effortless ad-libs.

As ever, the plot is unimportant – it’s a vague mix of Swiss Family Robinson and Robinson Crusoe – all you need to know is that all York’s panto regulars are firing on all cylinders. Martin Barrass plays the fool like no-one else, Suzy Cooper’s boundless energy is infectious and David Leonard as Zantanus proves once again that when it comes to panto villains, there’s no one who comes close.

With no soap stars or celebrities of yesteryear to pay, York has always ploughed all its panto budget into the set and costumes. It shows.

This year, the usual slapstick water routine has been shelved, but instead Kaler and Barrass take to the high wires and everything from the boat which takes the Robinson family to No Man’s Land, to Zantanus’s torture chamber is a cut above most other pantos. It’s what audiences have come to expect from Kaler and the York team, but this year there is an added bonus – Jamie Harris.

Panto ensembles are not known for their comic timing or sharp acting ability, but Harris’s camp cameos and asides threaten at times to overshadow even Kaler. We fully expect that next year, Harris will be promoted to the premier league with Cooper, Barrass and Leonard. York Family Robinson is first class stuff and, boasting one of the longest runs in UK panto, it’s well worth seeing long after the turkey leftovers have finally been consigned to history.

To February 4