You can’t say you’re not warned. A panto named Scouse Of The Rising Sun promises one thing only: a sorry-not-sorry celebration of everything scouseploitation has to offer. Say what you want about the references to Lobster Pots, Birkenhead, bums, tits and farts – it’s a recipe that has been working wonders for The Royal Court for a good few years and shows no sign of abating.
Although the material feels familiar it has been provided by the theatre’s producer, Kevin Fearon, this year after Fred Lawless opted to have a year off. After seven years perhaps he felt there were only so many ‘scouses’ in him. However the troupe of familiar faces – Alan Stocks, Drew Schofield, Lindzi Germain and Michael Fletcher might as well be in rep at the Royal Court – keep things on track.
Working through a succession of productions that don’t stray far from a successful template throughout the year, they ensure the latest scousey pantomime at this rejuvenated venue is another dollop of wilful stupidity and brassy naughtiness.
The plot? Who cares? Imagine Airplane crossed with The Liver Birds, The Wizard of Oz, Inbetweeners, five pints of lager and a chippy tea. What is true is that the whole enterprise could fall to bits of it didn’t put very talented people front and centre. There are songs, dance routines, pop references aplenty and a cast fine-tuned the rigours of knockabout theatre. Scouse Of The Rising Sun might as well have been written by algorithm.
Drew Schofield is particularly well used in a variety of parts that allow him to turn up the ham, especially when riffing on Spike Milligan while buried up the neck in quicksand and an outrageous wig/beard combo. Michael Ledwich, as the notional protagonist, has perfected the facial expression of a lazy, perma-stoned scally archetype. And Alan Stocks is so convincing as a trained actor reduced to the stakes of a bum you wonder if he’s gone method.
Sniff if you will, but the packed houses here have catalysed a thorough – and much-needed – refurbishment of the Royal Court. The affectionate guided tours demonstrate what has been, and what else needs to be done. The next stage with be refurbishing the top two tiers, opening a new cabaret-style space in the basement and turning the adjacent Penny Farthing pub – surely one of the most horrible sights in Liverpool – into a new public house.
It’s an extraordinary renaissance for a venue that was crumbling a little more than a decade ago. Scouseploitation may not offer much nourishment for some theatregoers but the success of the current Royal Court team – front of house, behind-he-scenes and on-stage has formed a recipe for success that’s hard to scoff at.
The Royal Court packs out three tiers of audiences at these shows, with a bar at the back of the auditorium, pub grub prior to performances and a convivial atmosphere it’s a formula that might have other theatres looking askance. The Royal Court essentially stages variations on pantomimes all year round – a rolling schedule of bawdy, rough-and-tumble farce. It’s something of a rebirth of variety in theatre. With The Playhouse staging a knees-up variety show this Christmas, starring a number of Royal Court regulars (earning it a dig during Scouse Of The Rising Sun) it suggests theatreland is taking note of the Royal Court’s continued success.
Scouse Of The Rising Sun
Until 14 January