A man for all Everyman panto seasons
There may be no key to the old front door – but Adam Keast is certainly celebrating the big ‘21’ at the Liverpool Everyman this season.
Cinderella, opening at the Hope Street theatre next week, marks the actor’s 21st consecutive Christmas on stage for the Everyman and Playhouse, with all but one appearance being in the near-legendary, and supremely silly, rock ‘n’ roll panto.
“I’m glad I did all that classical acting training,” he laughs as we chat about the milestone during a break from rehearsals. “It’s come in so useful! Hanging from the rafters as a lobster.”
Ah yes, the lobster. Or was it a shrimp? And the giant snowball. Or indeed any of the other many preposterous characters Keast has portrayed over the past two decades of seasonal shenanigans in performances which send panto punters home with a silly grin on their faces.
But, it turns out, particularly the lobster/shrimp, as which he famously dangled from the Gods at the Playhouse a decade ago (where the rock ‘n’ roll panto decamped while the Ev was rebuilt) during a run of Aladdin – wrestling a shark while being serenaded with Carly Simon’s Nobody Does it Better.
He recalls: “I came out between shows to get something to eat, and one of the biggest blokes I’d ever seen was standing in the foyer crying with laughter and going ‘the lobster, the lobster’. A great big bloke, tears of laughter running down his face because of me dangling from the rafters dressed as a mad lobster.
“That’s a lovely memory that has stuck with me. There you go, the power of comedy. To shift a great big hulk of a man to tears.”
Above: A man for all (Christmas) seasons....just some of Adam Keast's rock 'n' roll panto appearances over the years. Top: Adam Keast as Ruffles in the 2022 panto Red Riding Hood. Photo by Marc Brenner.
Keast’s first Everyman rock ‘n’ roll panto turn came at Christmas 2003 when he appeared as King Cole in Mother Goose, dressed in a fat suit and sporting a huge handlebar moustache.
But it wasn’t the then 34-year-old’s first time on the Liverpool stage.
The Hertfordshire-born actor was part of the cast of The Sound of Fury down the road at the Playhouse in 1995, where it played to 11 weeks of packed houses before decamping to the Empire, and later touring.
“And that was the beginning of my love affair with Liverpool,” he says.
Fury was followed by Ferry Cross the Mersey in early 1996, which starred the late legendary Gerry Marsden and later went on to the West End.
While Keast went with it, he decided that he wanted to make Liverpool his permanent home and his ‘love affair’ with the city – where he also appears regularly at the Royal Court - remains to this day.
That love affair appears to extend to the rock ‘n’ roll panto, with only the Covid pandemic able to disrupt his annual appearance, although even then – in 2020 – he only decamped as far as the Playhouse where he played Scrooge in A Christmas Carol.
Above: Adam Keast as Scrooge at the Playhouse in 2020. Photo by Robert Day.
For many, although not all of those years, he’s been one half of a devilish double act where he’s proved a riotously funny ‘straight’ man to the outrageous dame – initially for many seasons with Francis Tucker, then Matthew Quinn, and now for a second year with Ben Welch.
“People think we’ve been doing it for ages,” he said of his partnership with ‘Tucker’, “and we did do it for a long time. But for the first maybe four or five years, we worked quite separately within the show.
“And then one year, Mark and Sarah (Mark Chatterton and Sarah A Nixon who drove the panto for many years) wrote a scene for us and went – that’s it, it’s that. And then that was that for the next 10, 11, 12 years.
“It’s something that you can’t really describe. I don’t want to sound odd about it all, but it was something quite sort of magical in that we both had an immediate understanding of the other one. Without forcing it. It just seemed to be natural.”
It was also forged in a shared love of generations of great comedy – a love for Keast fostered first by his dad, who introduced him to the Goons, ITMA and Tony Hancock, and later through the work of the Pythons, Comic Strip Presents and the League of Gentlemen.
There was certainly, I suggest, a distinct, unpredictable ‘Rik and Ade’ (Dangerous Brothers) vibe to their onstage partnership.
“These are two massive heroes of mine. Huge,” Keast reveals. “Every year, at some point there’s a nod to Rik Mayall in one performance. Always, there will be one line or one action or one thing which is a nod.”
Audiences coming to the Everyman this Christmas take note.
Above: Adam Keast and Francis Tucker in Aladdin in 2007. Photo by Robert Day.
Talking of Cinderella, who is he playing in the 2023 panto?
“This year I’m playing Graham with an ‘h’ - ‘ham’ which is very suitable for my performances!” he laughs. “And I’m the assistant to the Fairy Godmother, so I’m an apprentice fairy.
“People who have been before will know that it’s called Cinderella, but there’s little resemblance to the traditional fairytale. We’ve gone our own way with it as usual.”
There’s a new writer on board for 2023, Liverpool playwright Luke Barnes, and a new director – James Baker who also directed Cherry Jezebel at the theatre.
So what keeps Keast coming back for more?
He considers: “The same people come and see us every year, and it’s lovely. And people who came as children now come with their children, and I love that too.
“To be part of people’s Christmas tradition is very special and I take that quite seriously.
“And I have that wonderful thing of all year long, I could be in a shop buying a packet of Twiglets, and people will say ‘are you the panto bloke?’. I love that, that’s lovely. And it’s always with a big smile, ‘are you doing it again?’, ‘see you at Christmas’. And all that sort of stuff.
“So that’s one reason. And another very good reason is that I’ve lived in the northwest for a long, long time, but mostly because I just like being in Liverpool. I love being in Liverpool.”
Cinderella is at the Liverpool Everyman from November 17 to January 20. Tickets HERE
Photographer's credits in slideshow - Sleeping Beauty 2020 (Helen Warner), Aladdin 2013 (Topher McGrillis), Little Red Riding Hood 2014 (Brian Roberts), Snow Queen 2018 and Sleeping Beauty 2019 (Robert Day).