Little Scouse on the Prairie, Scouse Pacific, Scouse of the Antarctic…it was only a matter of time until The Royal Court turned its ‘Scouse’ attention to the world’s best-loved fairytale.
Following the triumph of last year’s brilliant Liverpool Nativity was always going to be tough, and writer/director/producer Kevin Fearon has gone off piste this season with a show that’s structurally as close to traditional panto as the theatre has been in years, but that’s also heavily political.
‘Tis the season to be jolly...cross at Roe Street it appears, where Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson’s decision to sell bits of the city’s green and pleasant pastures for executive housing makes him one of the baddies of the piece – albeit a rather hapless, well-meaning, kazoo-tooting one in the form of Keddy Sutton in a fat suit.
Sutton gets one of the choice lines of the night when her Mayor Hardupson explains: “I’ve spent the council’s money on some big **** off French dolls.”
The story’s real baddie however is Lindzi Germain’s snarling glamourpuss property developer, who will let nothing get in her way in her bid to attain both the coveted Heart of Liverpool diamond and the prime real estate of Liverpool Woods.
Cinderella (Hayley Sheen) and Peter Prince (Stephen Fletcher). Photos by Zanto Digital
On the ‘good’ side meanwhile we have Hayley Sheen’s Cinders and Michael Fletcher who is an absolute delight as the loyal Buttons – a likeable character ultimately rewarded in a final-minute plot twist.
Achieving a balance between festive fun and a serious message is a tricky one, and this production feels rather lop-sided, particularly in the first half which is frustratingly lacking in laughs.
Panto is essentially about escapism and entertainment – with a gentle lesson learned almost by osmosis along the way, but The Scouse Cinderella rather hammers home its message, which makes it hard going at times.
The show opens with the death of Cinders’ mum in a chip pan fire, but it’s unclear whether we’re supposed to find this funny or tragic.
Meanwhile Drew Schofield and Paul Duckworth’s edgily entertaining rough arse Ugly Sisters Choo and Brook are wasted in a rather lame cookery scene, but then redeem themselves with a drink-fuelled 12 Days of Christmas after the interval that is properly hilarious.
The second half also cranks up the comedy with a things-go-wrong-but-the-show-must-go-on dramatic conceit which ranges in controlled chaos across designer Foxton’s enjoyable three-set revolve in homage to Mischief Theatre’s Peter Pan Goes Wrong.
While the plotline proves hit and miss, the musical numbers delivered by the Royal Court’s experience cast and band are reassuringly strong.
And there’s a crowd-pleasing tickertape finale to send you home with a smile on your face.