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Review: Robin Hood Everyman Rock 'n' Roll Panto ****

‘Tis the season to be jolly…silly, and the Everyman rock ‘n’ roll panto evidently isn’t going to let the spectre of a new ‘Rona variant get in the way of its seasonal shenanigans.

Writing/directing team Sarah A Nixon and Mark Chatterton have thrown pretty much everything at this return to Hope Street after last Christmas where it was replaced by a socially distanced cabaret.

It could be my imagination, but this Robin Hood (subtitle Tights in White Satin) seems to have an even more preposterous, convoluted plot than usual – and one populated with even more characters.

No fewer than eight of them are played by acting cover James Wolstenholme who has stepped into the breach (and breeches) to deliver a panoply of colourful creations after actor Mike Slader picked up a late injury.

They run the gamut from a Smashy and Nicey-style Rupert the Heir (yes, really) to a Pythoneque Lady of the Lake, with Wolstenholme evidently having a great – if busy - time.

“Good luck to you,” he says archly at one point. “I’m needed in other parts.”

Above: Fairy Avalon (Amina El-kindy) with Matthew Quinn, Adam Keast and Pete Mooney (Long John). Top: Adam Keast as Gilbert Jingles. Photos by Robert Day.

The engine room of the show remains the partnership of Adam Keast and Matthew Quinn, here playing a Robin Hood and Maid Marion who have spent the past two decades living under the deep cover aliases of Gilbert and Josie Jingles – cover so deep they have convinced themselves it’s real.

The diminutive Keast, his malleable eyebrows so expressive they deserve a separate acting credit, and the statuesque Quinn look comically mismatched before they even open their mouths, and they have developed a very enjoyable double (entendre) act since Quinn shrugged on the girdle (and unfeasibly domed fake breasts) from Keast’s panto partner in crime Francis Tucker a couple of years ago.

Elsewhere, musical director Jamie Noar is a self-regarding smoothie Marlon the wizard, panto regular Stephanie Hockley delivers plenty of thigh-slapping pluck – and sweet-voiced vocals – as Scarlett Jingles, and Jess Dives brings snarling wickedness as the show’s trademark female baddie.

Dives, who is herself a sought-after musical director, plays guitar, keyboards, sax and accordion in the on-stage band which is populated by most of the cast members at one time or another.

Above: Jessica Dives as Darthia Da Foe with Kaine Hatukai and Caitlin Lavagna. Photo by Robert Day.

And there are some big guitar moments in what is already a big, gutsy live soundtrack, including a quartet of pink-eared trolls who kick off the second half with Quo’s Rocking All Over the World.

Robin Hood references pepper the action which opens with wafty Clannad, while Quinn regularly pauses to croon Bryan Adams while making cow eyes at Keast. And Nixon and Chatterton also merrily borrow from other mythological and fantasy sources including Alan Garner and Thomas Malory.

Back in the Liverpool of 2021, designer Dinah England’s rainbow of costumes, realised by a 10-strong team of costume makers, are also a star of the show.

It may or may not be a vintage rock ‘n’ roll panto. I mean, nothing can top Adam Keast ascending into the Gods dressed as a lobster.

But it’s certainly big, bold, colourful, and offers lots of fun.

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