Loosely based on Goldilocks and the Three Bears, there's a circus theme to this year's Birmingham Hippodrome Christmas offering making a long-awaited return after a year off due to the 2020 lockdown.
The opening dazzles as it means to go on with more fluorescent stage lights than ever, glorious costumes, huge animal puppets and a big vintage variety show number welcoming the audience to 'the Greatest Show on Earth'.
It's not quite 'the Greatest' but it gives it a good shot with plenty of glitz, fun and hilarious silliness that can only come from live theatre. There's even huge animals from an elephant to a gorilla that children will love.
Lovable joker Matt Slack is the ringmaster in more ways than one as he leads the proceedings again, which feels reassuring.
Matt Slack and Jason Donovan make a great team on stage
Playing Ringo, the dopey ringmaster son of circus dame Betty Barnum, Slack has got the rapport with the crowd down to a tee and although there's many similar jokes to previous pantos, that's what audiences come to see.
It's actually former Neighbours actor and pop star Jason Donovan who shines brightest on stage in what's hard to believe is his first-ever panto. He's found his calling as the baddie that runs the rival circus and has a great camaraderie with Slack on stage.
Called Count Ramsay of Erinsborough, that's not the only nod to his past as there are plenty of Neighbours jokes including a hilarious section where Slack pretends to be Kylie and dons some of her most risqué outfits. You'll be crying with laughter.
Donovan brings a sinister, edgy side to his role, made all the darker by his henchmen that look like Heath Ledger-esque Jokers and kidnap the adorable three bears from Barnum's circus.
Fans of his pop songs won't be disappointed either as he sings a slower, more menacing version of hit Ten Good Reasons while circus artists Gemini Sisters entwine themselves seductively on a trapeze. Definitely one for the dads and scissor sisters.
There's more impressive circus entertainment scattered through the show from magician Phil Hitchcock, stunt motorbike riders Peter Pavlov and The Globe Of Speed and the surreal talents of Frenchman Pierre Marchand. The music gets some added sparkle from Alexia McIntosh, playing circus helper Candy Floss, who has starred in hit musical Six as Anna of Cleves.
The show's forte is the humour and taking care of that alongside Slack is funny Black Country comedian Doreen Tipton and panto dame extraordinaire Andrew Ryan. His outfits this year are the most eccentric yet and magnificent. One is even a full circus tent while another is a cleaning lady with ridiculously saggy boobs.
Then there is sweet-voiced Samantha Dorrance as Goldilocks. Although the roles of the three bears are somewhat in the shade as the fairytale story takes a back seat to become more of a variety show for this fun Hippodrome extravaganza.
It really is quite the spectacle although mask-wearing means there is not quite the same atmosphere as the laughs and shouts from the audience are muffled, but that's the price of safety in these times.
What's special is that panto is back - the craziness, costumes, music and silly, madcap fun - after the even crazier 22 months of covid. If larger than life Slack can't make you laugh at Christmas then nothing can.
Goldilocks and the Three Bears is at Birmingham Hippodrome until January 30.