It’s a well-known fact that Christmas doesn’t officially start in Liverpool until the arrival of the Everyman rock ‘n’ roll panto.
So dust off those decorations, drag home that tree and get a spot of Slade on the stereo, because the festive season is definitely here.
Actually, Slade is one of the only bands that hasn’t, to my knowledge, been given the rock ‘n’ roll panto treatment in recent years. As for the rest, musically it’s a broad church, from Yazz to Christina Perri, Grease, Carl Orff, Debussy and panto favourite Queen, via – given the nautical theme of this year’s show – Rod Stewart and Captain Pugwash. A-ha me hearties!
Writers Sarah A Nixon and Mark Chatterton have brought their years of Everyman panto experience to bear in a convoluted comedy tale of Herman Melville proportions, involving a mermaid looking for love, a prince looking for his ships, an ambitious baddie looking for world domination, and a flounder looking for….well, he can’t quite remember.
Tom Connor and Lucy Thatcher in The Little Mermaid. Photos: Robert Day
Lucy Thatcher returns to evil duties, after playing Narcissus in Beauty and the Beast last season, and clearly relishes the high drama, playing the high priestess of mean, Ivanna, in Technicolor fashion and with a belting vocal line.
And there was high praise indeed from the gallery where one young audience member was impelled to shout: “She’s fake – she’s just using you.” That’s the power of theatre.
In fact, many of the cast are familiar faces, including LIPA graduate Stephanie Hockley as the sweet-natured, sweet-voiced mermaid Marina, and the award-winning Tom Connor who delivers another scene-stealing performance as the fish with a 10-second memory and a mean turn on lead guitar.
And it’s difficult to steal a scene in a show starring the deadliest double act this side of the Pennines, Adam Keast and Francis Tucker – the only mermaid you’ll see rocking a five o’clock shadow, tattoos and a gurn of Les Dawson proportions.
Adam Keast and Francis Tucker. Photo by Robert Day
As Captain Nemo and Pearl, a pair of puffa fish, or the cod-menacing ‘Crayfish Twins’, they cavort, bicker, corpse and ad lib to the delight of the adults in the audience, Keast’s Nemo in particular sailing close to the wind with a neat line in saucer-eyed double entendres.
It’s frankly too long at almost three hours including interval and encore – the first half could be tightened up by 15 minutes without much trouble. And on press night there seemed to be an initial issue with the sound. That or, most unlikely, someone somewhere wasn’t in the right key.
Still, the rock ‘n’ roll panto remains must-see festive entertainment. It’s visually inventive, it sounds great, and if you don’t leave with a smile on your face then bah humbug to you.