The absence of one half of the rock’n’roll panto’s legendary pairing of dames – Adam Keast is still going strong – will be a source of regret for many. But it doesn’t deny the irrepressible Everyman’s festive spirit.
This year it’s Sleeping Beauty but does it really matter? The panto has only ever really been a framework on which to hang a series of ludicrous vignettes, barnstorming musical numbers and occasional plot mechanics.
You could almost imagine writers Sarah Nixon and Mark Chadderton have a spreadsheet: opening scene; dames entrance; villain appears; inflatable sumo suits…. it may all look effortless but Sleeping Beauty is a packed show and nudges towards three hours running time with the interval. You can’t complain about value for money.
Adam Keast is pivotal as a master of ceremonies, mischievous bodyguard and lead guitarist on Johnny B Goode. In other hands his many double entendres, some of which barely qualify as much more than outright filth, might come off as crass.
But they’re always delivered with a trademark smile and chuckle. Adults guffaw, the kids don’t seem to notice. When he makes a remark about sharing his huge load you get the feeling even the Royal Court audience might blush.
He immediately strikes up a strong rapport with Matthew Quinn, a panto dame every bit as naughty as Tucker with a fine voice and winning lack of mercy when it comes to picking on the hapless front-row audience victim. His Queen Gladys is a fine creation in his / her / its own right.
Perhaps the star of the show is Danny Burns, multitasking as a dozen different roles that frequently call for him to be in two places at once. He wins the audience over with a tireless, amusing turn as characters boasting a phenomenal range of accents, genders and outfits – and makes hay with the physical absurdities required of him.
Stephanie Hockley and Jamie Noar show off all their skills as the notional protagonists, while Anna Soden and Stanton Wright create a winning support. Gracie Lee as the saucy, evil Magnificent wrings the most out of her lines and songs too, particularly the breathtaking question, “Are you going to sausage me into submission?”. Remarkable.
But really Sleeping Beauty is a team effort showing off what the cast and crew are capable of. It’s been a trying couple of years for the E&P but the rock’n’roll panto is an affirmation of the Everyman and its vital role in Liverpool’s theatre landscape.
When the cast of Sleeping Beauty vanish for the last time after one last rousing encore you miss them. And you can’t pay a better tribute to this festive Liverpool landmark.
Until 18 January
Images by Robert Day