It’s Liverpool’s most lavish panto of them all – and this year it’s also the final one to open its doors.
But while the Empire might be last to the party in 2017, it’s certainly not least when it comes to production values and all-round razzle dazzle.
From Fairy Godmother Jodie Prenger’s aerial entrance to Cinders’ and Prince Charming’s nuptuals, it’s a well-crafted piece of quality entertainment, helmed by director Bob Tomson who’s usually to be found working alongside Bill Kenwright on musicals like Blood Brothers, Evita, and, most recently, Cilla.
This practically makes him Scouse, and indeed this year’s panto is packed with Liverpool born, bred or trained performers.
Take John Evans, who’s been poached from Venue Cymru after a decade of Christmases in Llandudno. With a quarter of a century of pantos under his belt, the Empire audience is in safe hands. Oh yes it is.
John Evans as Buttons. Top: Jodie Prenger's Fairy Godmother. Photos by Mark McNulty
Once he dispenses with the 70s working men’s club jokes, Evans’ Buttons has the audience won over with easy, cheeky charm, and he’s also very adept at wrangling small children without frightening or humiliating them. On press night, the sight of a four-year-old in a princess dress, gamely trying to play a trombone, was priceless.
LIPA graduate Olivia Sloyan is a genial, sweet-voiced Cinderella, while Daniel Taylor and James Templeton, who recently appeared together in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (as Bottom and Puck respectively), are gruffly grotesque as her Ugly Sisters, rocking a succession of impressive outfits and not a little stubble.
In fact, Prenger may hail from along the Lancashire coast, but even she summons up a mild Scouse accent. And Duncan James is bunking off Hollyoaks to wield a glass slipper and gamely join in a spot of gentle mocking about his Blue days.
Olivia Sloyan and Duncan James in Cinderella. Photo by Mark McNulty
The sets are mostly painted backdrops, but the liberal use of glitter and some good lighting mean they look sumptuous, and Cinders effects a nifty transformation in front of our eyes from dowdy pot washer to princess-for-a-night (although her ball dress is a bit underwhelming).
Under Tomson's direction, the pace is brisk - the show comes in at a welcome two-and-a-quarter hours including interval.
There are a number of well-executed song and dance interludes and a brilliantly chaotic slapstick routine involving Prenger, Evans, Taylor and Templeton which is more successful than a pheasant plucker tongue-twister episode in the first half.
Donald Trump and Meghan Markle get a mention – although surely they missed a trick and should have had Prince Charming popping the question over a roast chicken dinner, rather than a shoe fitting?
But if you don’t feel full of seasonal cheer and festive goodwill as the final number comes to a close, there must be something wrong with you.