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Review: Red Riding Hood at Liverpool Everyman ***

The Everyman’s rock ‘n’ roll panto has become a Christmas tradition for many Liverpool theatregoers, and just like the Royal Court down the road, you know what to expect from their festive show.

In the Everyman’s case it’s guitar-wielding fairies, a femme fatale baddie emerging from beneath the stage, a water pistol soaking and a double act of Dame and comedy sidekick love interest – the latter played by the redoubtable Adam Keast.

All those core rock ‘n’ roll panto tropes are present and correct in this latest production.

But behind the scenes there have been some seismic changes since last year; a new creative team and, apart from Keast (the fulcrum around which the entire show is built), a completely new cast.

The result is a show which has lots of promise, but which – at present - is only partly delivering.

Maisy Merry, aka Red Riding Hood (Paislie Reid) runs a bakery in Soggy Bottom in the Marsh, and fills daily baskets of food for her grannie Millicent (Ben Welch) who lives in the woods.

But all is not well in Soggy Bottom. There’s a ‘big bad wolf’ (or is he? should we judge a book by its cover?) on the loose, while the local gentry Lady Lucille (Jennifer Hynes, in sneering Cruella Deville mode) and her clowning henchmen have dastardly plans to put Maisy out of business.

Add in a gormless wandering Prince (Keaton Guimaraes-Tolley) and his factotum Ruffles (Keast), and a rhyming fairy narrator (Aminita Francis), and with the cast wielding any number of musical instruments as they burst into song at the drop of a hat, and you have all the ingredients for a classic rock ‘n’ roll panto. The recipe just needs a good refining.

Above: Adam Keast as Ruffles. Top: Paislie Reid as Red Riding Hood and Damien James as Lupus the Wolf. Photos by Marc Brenner.

There are a number of strong performances, and the cast are clearly enjoying themselves too – Reid makes for a bright, feisty heroine and Guimaraes-Tolley is a sweet idiot love interest, while he and Keast work well together as a double act.

Keast also has a good rapport with this year’s Dame, and the burly, bearded Welch is lots of fun, while Francis is a calm and soothing presence as Fairy Blossom.

Meanwhile the wide range of audience-pleasing musical numbers run the gamut from Damien James’ Lupus the Wolf in full heavy metal/prog rock mode on the guitar to an irresistibly uplifting version of Take That’s Shine featuring Keast, Guimaraes-Tolley and a chorus of puppet woodland animals.

Pantos are always strangely lengthy given the attention span of their core audience demographic, but at the best part of three hours, Red Riding Hood is at least half-an-hour too long. This is a Christmas show, not Hamlet.

Someone needs to be brave and swing a judicious axe – while the music is great, shedding a few of the numbers which constantly interrupt the story and then tightening the remaining action would improve what is, at the moment, a rather sparse and soggy start-stop narrative pace.

And while Keast and Welch are enjoyably silly together, what’s missing is the sense of danger and wild-eyed unpredictability which has always been a trademark of the Everyman seasonal show, while sometimes the script slips from saucy nudge nudge innuendo into more overt and uncomfortable sexual references.


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