REVIEW: Robinson Crusoe & the Caribbean Pirates, Mayflower Theatre, Southampton, until Sunday, January 12.

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The brilliant Brian Conley really is the perfect panto performer.

OK, so you could argue that he turns Robinson Crusoe into the Brian Conley Show. But so what? He’s got the charisma, the energy and the character to carry the whole thing single-handedly.

Not that he needs to.

Lesley Joseph is suitably enchanting as the Enchantress of the Ocean.

But really it’s all about Brian in a show that wisely tumbles to the fact that it is the panto gaffes that always get the best laughs. It delivers them beautifully scripted - all part of the fun of an evening which never lets the drive drop, from first to last.

Just as you’d expect from the Mayflower at Christmas, it’s big, bold and spectacular with some wonderful effects. A pirate ship on stage at the start gets us in the spirit before it is then topped by a flying car (superb even if it’s got absolutely nothing to do with Robinson Crusoe).

And then best of all, we get Brian battling a sea monster.

But really it’s Brian’s sheer force of personality which sees this show soar - that plus the fact that the producers have realised, as so many pantomime producers don’t, that pantos are supposed to be funny. This one is, quite riotously so - thanks largely to the way it’s delivered

It’s silly, it’s stupid, but it also comes with surely this year’s best panto moment as Conley breaks into The Beatles’ Yesterday. Surely, this isn’t a panto song, we mumble. But oh yes, it is. The gag that follows is priceless. I’m still chuckling now.

This is panto exactly as it ought to be i.e. shorn of the boring bits, the tedious ‘He’s behind you’s’ and that dreary scene in which a ghost taps a dwindling number of performers on the shoulder.

Instead, it’s all the best bits, some stage-managed faux-pas and the endlessly-irrepressible Brian Conley, with Joseph there to add some class.

Chichester Festival Theatre’s production of Barnum this summer needed several million volts shot through it. See this, and you’ll see why Conley is the CFT’s go-to man for when Barnum goes out on tour next year.

Phil Hewitt