The Epstein’s panto has famous names but will really need to get its act together if it has a chance of competing with Liverpool’s better-established Christmas shows. Clearly still bedding in, from the tech snafus to ill-advised adult jokes, it couldn’t be said things are really running smoothly at this early stage.
As the Fairy Godmother, Amanda Harrington gave things a good go; she looked fantastic (drawing heavily on Pamela Anderson’s panto stint at the Empire a few years back) and delivered her lines clearly, if somewhat monotone. She could have looked more as if she was enjoying herself, though, and if she masters that over the course of the run could be one of its assets (no glamour model pun intended).
Benidorm’s Crissy Rock should have made a stonking wicked queen, but again there wasn’t that sense she was really reaching out to the audience (you really do believe the brilliant Marienne Benedict at the Playhouse could have everyone for breakfast). Rock was the only cast member comfortable ad libbing with the crowd though, and with fantastic make up and a pair of glittery stilettos to die for, a bit more hammy menace would go a long way.
Paul Danan – the former Hollyoaks star previously sacked from panto for blurting out the f-word at a Christmas lights switch on – added a bit of cheeky chappy fun, was inexplicably forced to go topless in one scene, and did his best to seem game with an increasingly lacklustre script.
Herbert’s pre-recorded appearances as the Magic Mirror had the potential to be amusing, but the timing of the interaction was generally so poor as to ruin the gags. But it was LHK production’s regular panto dame Michael Chapman that proved the most memorable cast member, for all the wrong reasons. In the audience participation segment, when a little girl had the good sense to stride off stage refusing to take part, the dame was so bereft of ideas he dragged an, ahem, tired and emotional adult audience member up, hijacking the whole show and turning it into some kind of surreal, sub-par comedy night (shamefully abandoning the second very small child left on stage). I spent the last 20 minutes of this show with my head in my hands.
Troubled with a thin script, technical difficulties (we started to walk out at a section that it turned out wasn’t the interval when the house lights went up), uninspiring stagecraft, and a cast so keen to get through their lines jokes were repeatedly told too quickly to sink in, all made for a rather woeful mix. Cheap and cheerful, maybe? One of those, at least.
The charm came from the young people involved – the Seven Dwarfs were cute, funny and seemingly a lot more comfortable on stage than many of the adult cast, and the older dancers – when the spotlights could find them – livened things up with a variety of routines, Thriller being a rare inventive highlight.
Amendment (December 20): It’s worth adding that since writing this review it’s been pointed out what I referred to as a technical difficulty with the house lights coming up before the interval was actually a deliberate stage direction so the dwarfs could make their entrance through the auditorium. This couldn’t be seen by many people from my vantage point. It has also been noted by several sources that the show has bedded in well and is now much improved.