See the rock’n’roll panto a few times and you can start to see the base code running through it. There’s a very familiar feel to the narrative, as there is with any pantomime, and it’s the same story with the production: songs, lewd jokes, amusing asides, a dastardly villain and a sappy love story.
By rights it should feel rather dated by now, but it never does due to the sheer sense of exuberance evident on the stage. Simply, it looks like everyone on stage is having a whale of a time. Much like laughter, this sense of enjoyment is infectious and even the Dads and partners in the audience who look like they’ve been dragged along against their better judgement are shimmying along in the aisles by the end of it.
That’s down, in no small part, to the joyous duo of Adam Keast and Francis Tucker, panto grotesques par excellence who gurn, wink and laugh their way through this latest rock’n’roll panto (Jack And The Beanstalk, though it scarcely matters).
That might prove a problem if the rest of the cast weren’t in on the joke too. But everyone else embraces the sense of absurdity that’s written through it. Certainly the script gives them plenty to play with – some very rude innuendo, some neat theatrical tricks, plenty of punnage and some song-and-dance routines for the younger cast members to get their teeth into.
But it’s how the cast imbues the script with cheekiness, rudeness, audience humiliation and ad libbing that make the Playhouse’s panto the joy for all ages it really is.
Griffin Stevens’ Cad chews the scenery with as much gusto as the aforementioned Keast and Tucker as Ernie (the fastest milkman in West Kirby, saucy) and Mary (owns a dairy, saucy) while Toby Lord as the conventional leading man Jack and Aretha Ayeh as the honey-voiced Alana do their parts justice too. Marianne Benedict is snarling and swaggering as the evil Esmerelda, while Carla Freeman manages to make the most of being a happy (or sad) cow seem rather charming too.
All the while the cast swap places, instruments, costumes and characters to keep things moving along. It might be a tad overlong, there’s some obvious repetition from previous years and there could be one or two musical numbers less, but children adore all the interplay and musical numbers and it’s so spirited it’s easy to overlook trifles.
So another year, another Christmas, another panto. Another happy audience goes home with stupid smiles on their faces. Disposable fun, perhaps, but it pays to remember how much serious sweat, skill and experience goes into making something look this knockabout without it simply falling apart.
As we’ve noted before, the arrival of the E&P’s panto is a sign that Christmas is very close. That’s entirely fitting, because of the sheer amount of goodwill and happiness it seems it generate.
It will be a sad day when Christmas in Liverpool isn’t marked by the rock’n’roll panto.
Jack And The Beanstalk
Until 19 January