The onset of Christmas isn’t marked by Coke adverts, Slade on repeat in supermarkets or stocking up on Ranitidine for us; it’s the E+P’s rock’n’roll panto.

Like a four-minute warning, its signals the beginning of a countdown to a time of year that is to be enjoyed and endured in sometimes equal measure.

Christmas brings its own difficulties and tribulations, but there are also nuggets of gold. And if you can suspend your cynicism for a couple of hours, a pantomime – done well – can be a thing or pure, guilty joy; a rare treat, for sure, but an enjoyably indulgent one.

We’re long-time fans of the rock’n’roll panto – but there are several changes of pace and unlikely guest stars aplenty across Merseyside this year. If you don’t fancy the balls-out daftness of a pantomime try the Unity’s Hansel and Gretel or choose from three lovely-looking productions at the Lantern Theatre.

But if you do then luxuriate in the sight yesteryear’s soap stars, David Gest playing a hideous monster (stop that!) and, well, Sonia. Oh, and if you like Atomic Kitten and Cinderella you’re in for a real treat this year.

Here are seven (ish – image Cinderella counts only once) pantos and Christmas shows you might want to sample this festive season.

The Royal Court – A Nightmare On Lime Street

David Gest stars as the Monster – how meta is that? – in this analogue of Frankenstein, only with appearances from Gest’ famous friends, including Tito Jackson, at a special charity performance.

With a plot best described as bonkers, the inimitable Gest starring and a raft of musical numbers we can only suggest that Nightmare On Lime Street is bound to be a unique production.

Indeed the press release promises that the panto – by Fred Lawless, who’s done the previous three pantos at the Royal Court – will feature “near-the-knuckle jokes and outlandish songs held together by a plot in a surreal setting”.

Just a typical panto then, really. Only this one stars David Gest.

A Nightmare On Lime Street
Royal Court
Until 20 January (gala performance 9 December)

The Epstein – Cinderella

Our Sonia takes the lead as Cinderella (pictured, top) in this first panto in the Epstein since its regeneration.

The bubbly redhead gets back-up from Philip Olivier (Tin ‘Ed from Brookie and another Doctor Who type thanks to some audio plays starring Sylvester McCoy) and, er, Nicki from Big Brother (short, shrieky, stroppy).

In classic panto style there’s also a bloke from local radio in it, while local lass Alison Crawford – she was a finalist on BBC’s Grease is the Word – is Cinders herself.

Who can resist our very own Sonia? Certainly not us – especially if she pulls of the frankly astonishing ‘fireman’s-carry’ dance from her pop hit You’ll Never Stop Me From Loving You in the course of the panto.

Cinderella
Epstein Theatre
7 December – 6 January

Floral Pavilion – Peter Pan

We can’t tell you a lot about this production of Peter Pan at New Brighton’s Floral Pavilion, but it does star Derek Moran of Channel 5’s Milkshake and formerly of Irish boyband D-Side, Gary Turner from Emmerdale and Hollyoaks and Jack McMullen from Waterloo Road.

No, us neither, but this being Peter Pan we can expect to see the cast members flying overhead on Kirby wires.

The theatre promises a traditional family pantomime – so probably safe to say there won’t be too many knob gags in this one.

Peter Pan
Floral Pavilion
13 December – 6 January

The Brindley – Jack And The Beanstalk

It’s a soap extravaganza at the Brindley, with Bruno Langley (Corrie’s Todd Grimshaw) and Sarah White (Brookie’s Bev Dicko). Langley plays opposite Camille Mesnart, who was almost a Dorothy in the BBC’s Over The Rainbow.

It’s head to head with the Playhouse’s take on Jack And the Beanstalk and we suspect it may be a little more sanitised, but fans of Corrie and Doctor Who (big cult intersection there) will be in hog’s heaven.

There’s plenty of opportunities to see this panto at Liverpool’s southern theatre outpost – just 20 minutes from some parts of the city as we noted recently with plenty of matinees and evening performances.

Jack And The Beanstalk
The Brindley
14 December – 13 January

The Unity – Hansel And Gretel

The Unity doesn’t have a panto as such, but it is showing a Christmassy production. This year it’s classic fairytale Hansel And Gretel, but the Unity does promise “jolly songs, belly laughs, heroes and villains” so if you’re on the lookout for pantomimes you can’t go far wrong.

Playwright Jeff Young – who has previously adapted The Voyages of Sinbad The Sailor for the Unity – has combed all the tellings of the story he could find to create this new script.

Through conversations with the other departments he constructs a unified vision of the play, so we’re excited to see the finished product; something that looks set to be a magical production.

Hansel And Gretel
Unity Theatre
4 Dec – Sat 12 Jan

Empire Theatre – Cinderella

Yup, it’s another Cinderella. This one’s got Liz McLarnon and Coleen Nolan covering two generations of Liverpool girl bands. McLarnon is following in the footsteps of fellow kitteh Natasha Hamilton, who was treading the boards at the Empire last year. Meanwhile the latter is fresh out of Celebrity Big Brother where she had an argument with Julie Goodyear.

There’s also an appearance from Tayleur and Elliot (they’re off Got To Dance) and Pete Price is – what else? – an ugly sister.

He’ll be joined by Pauline Daniels, who’ll be taking shifting gears somewhat from the traumatic Held at the Playhouse Studio.

Expect songs, dance and someone to rhyme the word Cinderella with ‘fella’.

Cinderella
Empire Theatre
14 December – 6 January

The Playhouse – Jack And The Beanstalk

It’s the rock’n’roll panto – would it be outrageous to suggest the panto is question is somewhat academic? – and you should all know what to expect by now.

Some modern pop songs crowbarred into a classic panto; regular dousings for the audience; the abject humiliation of one unfortunate on the front row; and the irresistible pairing of Adam Keast and Francis Tucker telling dirty jokes, pulling outrageous faces and trying not to laugh.

There genuinely is something for everyone; all the singing and dancing and panto nonsense is present and correct – but adults will have a riot.

Jack and the Beanstalk – The Rock’N’Roll Panto
Liverpool Playhouse
30 November – 19 January

Lantern Theatre – Various

There’s no Christmas show specifically at the Lantern; instead we have two productions of A Christmas Carol and Scarlett’s Secret Snow Globe. All are festive-themes, but expect very different tones.

First up in Spike Theatre’s take on the Dickens classic, in which we can expect original music, puppetry, shadow play more. We’re expecting laughs, but anticipate some scares too.

Tiny Giants promise a faithful retelling of the Victorian tale – lauded throughout the country – with a cinematic sound-scape and revolving set.

Finally Take a Hint tells the story of a spoilt brat who gets a terrible come-uppance. Actually we expect she undergoes a Scrooge-like transformation in this new family-friendly production.

Spike Theatre’s A Christmas Carol
Lantern Theatre
1 – 10 December

Scarlett’s Secret Snow Globe
Lantern Theatre
17 – 22 Dec / 27 – 31 Dec

Tiny Giants Theatre Company’s A Christmas Carol
Lantern Theatre
18-19 December

Southport Theatre – Cinderella

Liverpool theatre – check. Cinderella – check. Former member of Atomic Kitten – check. This time it’s Natasha Hamilton, with support from Corrie’s Pauline Fleming and Hollyoaks’ Kent Riley.

The theatre promises ‘high-energy song and dance routines’ and Shetland ponies.

Cinderella
Southport Theatre & Convention Centre
6 December – 31 December

Do you know of another panto going on in Liverpool this Christmas? Let us know and we’ll flag it up if so.