Props, as always, must go to Les Dennis as Wishee, overshadowed as ever by the big name celeb, but a consummate professional, providing a pair of safe hands that the production would be lost without. Able to deal with whatever is thrown at him – including rogue children on stage more interested in making shadow puppets in the lights than having a chat about Christmas presents, or trying to catch a ring of toilet rolls around his neck.
Veteran panto dame Sean Kearns might not be well known but had some fantastic lines and fantastic costumes (including a box of noodles). His Widow Twankee was a real hoot, the strong Irish brogue and colourful OTT tart with a heart brought to mind Cheryl Brady from Hollyoaks, surely one of the best comic soap characters around.
This production seemed to fly by compared to last year’s Peter Pan, and the story flowed nicely. There’s nothing worse than being stuck in a panto that is getting from A to B by-the-book, finding yourself ticking all the ‘musts’ off the mental list in your head before it can finish and you’re allowed to leave.
Wishee and Twankee make a great double act, both with an inate ability to gauge how well the material is going down. More than once, a self-aware quip such as “we already did that, and it didn’t get a laugh the first time”, warmed up an audience that took a while to get into the groove. Twankee, standing about 8ft in heels and wig, was an hilarious love interest for relatively minature Pete Price as the Emperor of Chinatown.
That said, it wasn’t really an immediately endearing production. It seemed to be cobbled together from other Family First shows, and it could certainly be said more style had been put into it than substance, and this showy grandeur left me quite cold in places. We’d certainly seen their version of the 12 Days of Christmas before in a previous panto, but the number is such good fun we can forgive another airing. The same applied for roping Pamela Anderson in for a reprise of the daftest song of the night, when each character sings about what they’d be if they weren’t stuck in Chinatown.
Pam had that fun, self-depreciating way about her the Americans do so well. “DON’T call me BABE,” she scorned baddie Abanazer (Mark Moraghan). “I’m trying to forget.” The gag went over the heads of most but was actually the tagline from her cult (read: awful) 90s film Barb Wire. Another, “but genie, what can you show me that I’ve never seen?” was met with a sly “ain’t that the truth”. All big hair, long legs and cartoon curves, Pam only spends 15 minutes on stage but again pulled that Hollywood glamour trick of making the audience feel loved enough for it not to matter.
If anything, there seemed to be a bit too much knowing, adult humour in this show. The way they spent so much time desperately trying to ingratiate people by shoehorning in as many Liverpool references as possible was tiresome, and the OTT Scouse accent they gave poor Aladdin was unnecessary. Nevertheless, in the end, when Pamela Anderson’s standing on stage in a sequinned swimming costume, waving and wishing everyone a happy Christmas, it is just so wonderfully weird, you can’t help but join in with the festive fun.