“I’ll get hit one day – but I can take a punch,” says one half of Keast and Tucker – the double-act at the core of the Everyman and Playhouse’s Rock’N’Roll Panto – a Liverpool Christmas institution that has seemingly been going for longer than Sleeping Beauty, er, slept.
He’s referring to his beasting of unfortunate audience members every year at the theatres. This year it’s back at its spiritual home, the Everyman, having decamped to the Playhouse since 2011. Happily Francis Tucker and Adam Keast are back for another year of fun, frolics – and filth.
Together the pair form a scene-stealing duo in the annual production, trying to make each other corpse, winking to acknowledge a saucy line or soaking hapless audience members with water pistols. Now, like Doddy shows and generic Winterval decorations, it’s a sure sign that Christmas is approaching.
The coming panto is Adam’s 12th and Tucker’s 15th but, as they attempt to pose for photographs the rest of the cast do their level best to distract them. It’s a good reminder that the Rock’N’Roll panto is about more than two men, but the presence of Tucker and Keast mean that adults can enjoy the panto too – some of the rather fruity gags going over children’s heads and slapping Mums and Dads around the face.
While the two are Liverpool panto veterans their on-stage partnership – always romantic, mischievous, knowing and absurdly costumed – only crystallised in the last five years.
“I think it happened because in one panto we were in the same scene and it got longer and longer night by night – the directors and writer just went with it,” suggests Tucker, who seems to be called Tucker by one and all.
“We like the same comedy – Spike Milligan, Vic and Bob and The Mighty Boosh – and it’s nice when you find someone you can work with who’s on the same level.”
“We’re actually quite respectful of each others’ time on stage…” adds Adam, before Tucker interjects.
“I want to get that on tape!”
“Haha! Sometimes you have what we call an acting war between performers but we don’t try that. We do try to make each other corpse, though, obviously…”
Those are certainly our favourite moments, when the joy of performing is clear to see. Not that it ever feels self-indulgent – the extended scenes between the two have become an integral part of the panto in recent years, while the pair’s arrival is always heralded with an entrance even more absurd than the previous year’s. The two have become some intertwined that they’ve reached the stage that long-standing fictional television couples get to.
“If I’m working somewhere else in Liverpool people ask me where the other one is,” admits Adam. “We’re not actually married in real life! But that’s actually lovely.”
Both Keast and Tucker fell, accidentally but happily, into musical theatre following the usual routes through acting classes and college. As both have a background in music – Tucker worked as a session drummer before turning to acting – they bring a ready-made rhythm section to the rock’n’roll panto, but there are still weeks of rehearsals – lines, music, choreography and more – to learn before it’s ready. And even then there’s more to it.
“Pantomime is very skilled, especially our anarchic take on it,” says Tucker. “You need that instinct of a comedian where you have to learn how to react to the audience.”
Over the best part of two months and over 60 performances the panto, Little Red Riding Hood this year, demands a taxing combination of creativity and bloody-minded toil over a time of year that combines high levels of stress, likely illness and the expectation of audiences who want to be entertained.
“It is hard,” admits Adam, “but when you come to the end of it but in the end of January there’s quite a lot of the audience returning who’ve seen it at Christmas – it’s like they’re coming back to say goodbye. It can be quite sad when everyone goes their separate ways.”
The fact that audience member returns at the end of the run suggests a surprising loyalty and affection among them, we suggest.
“Oh, absolutely,” laughs Tucker. “Last year a couple got married in the morning, came to see the show and then flew off to Vegas on their honeymoon.”
Did you soak them?
“Oh, fucking hell yes!”
• Little Red Riding Hood, starring Keast and Tucker, runs until Saturday 17 Jan 2015 at the Liverpool Everyman