Panto. Same thing every year, right? Yet somehow, the Playhouse has managed to take the festive art form to another level yet again. If you’re going to see a big Christmas show in Liverpool this year, it has to be this one.
The traditional Everyman rock ‘n’ roll panto was moved to the Playhouse last year and settled into its new surrounds to fantastic effect, but it was a novelty and there was always the feeling it was only on loan. This year, it is made to measure and then some. Everything is twice as big, bold, colourful — and silly.
Regular writers Mark Chatterton and Sarah A Nixon take a few liberties with the tale of Jack and the Beanstalk to create the story they want to tell, but it pays off. Designer Dinah England’s set bursts with colour and unexpected treats; Tayo Akinbode once again has chosen the most enjoyable and unexpected mix of pop songs through the decades to integrate into the plot (Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want, anyone?); and Jacquie Davies’s beautiful costumes are a delight, from cutie pie fairy dresses to the outrageous panto dame.
Speaking of which, regular dame Francis Tucker is inimitable as ever as Jack’s mum, Mary (from the dairy); but it’s partner-in-crime Adam Keast who steals the show this time as his love interest Ernie, the fastest milkman in the west (of Kirby). There’s breaking the fourth wall – this is panto, after all – and then there’s Keast’s own brand of corpsing, ad libbing, sneaking in jokes for the grown ups and general professional mucking about that always makes watching the pair of them one of the highlights of the year.
They are assisted by one of the strongest casts to ever take on the unique challenges of the rock ‘n’ roll panto, who not only act and sing but rotate in their spots in the house band (even Tucker is to be found, in bra and bearing huge tattoos, behind the drumkit between his scenes).
Marianne Benedict is superb in the duel roles of good and bad fairies Betsy Bubbles and villain Esmerelda; Griffin Stevens is camp and great fun as a baddie so bad, he’s simply called Cad; and Aretha Ayeh shows off a remarkable voice as songbird Alana. Toby Lord is a likeable Jack, and Carla Freeman adorable in multiple roles including Pat the cow (I just got that one).
So. You’ve got a pretty cow on her very own moo-ped, dresses made of inflatable cheeses, a milk truck that goes into space, a full on version of Hawkwind’s Silver Machine, slow fight scenes, love, laughs, and a squirrel you will never forget. And that’s just for starters. If you need to shake off the winter blues, there’s only one thing for it.
Jack and the Beanstalk runs until January 19, 2013.
Picture by Robert Day