ANOTHER year another Christmas cracker!

Locals Neil Armstrong and Paul Hartley not only write but co-produce and perform in this, their third and arguably their best panto.

There's not a Disney princess in sight and what Robinson Crusoe novel writer Daniel Defoe, who lived in Gateshead from 1706 to 1710, would have thought of this is anyone's guess. Only the title remains true to his book but if he had a sense of humour he's have chuckled all the way through.

"Chuckled" is the optimum word because while there were no huge, hearty laughs there was never a dull moment in this delightful pirate swashbuckling romp that had the kids on the edge of their seats throughout, including my six year old grand-daughter who reacted to every twist and turn; she cheered the goodies, booed Armstrong as the evil Captain Blackheart and screamed out "oh, yes you did!".

Blackheart's search for a fabled Pearl of Wisdom brings him onto contact with Robinson Crusoe (Jamie Brown) and a host of other daft characters, like the Dame Connie Crusoe (Paul Dunn), a love interest called Polly Perkins (Lauren Waine) and the goddess of the Sea, Aqua Marina (Jane Mackenzie).

Armstrong and Hartley (as the dim-but-nice Billy Bob Crusoe) are, of course, the spine of the show but to their credit they have created an ensemble piece with a top-notch cast who have equal shares on stage.

The slapstick, music, puns, daft jokes, sinking mud, sword fights, a brilliant giant turtle and a silly man-size parrot (John Murdoch) all add to the fun.

What also makes this stand out is the high production values. The live music, the quality of the dancers and their routines, the costumes and sets are, like the piece itself, delightful.

Ed Waugh