It was with some trepidation that I signed up to review this year’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Panto at Liverpool’s Everyman. The thing is, I’ve been reviewing this stalwart of the city’s festive cultural scene for some years now and was starting to run out of new thing to say.
Now, that might reflect more poorly on the reviewer than the productions, but even the biggest Everyman panto fan will tell you they know what to expect. That is part of its charm. Copious live music from a multi-instrumentalist cast, extravagant costumes, smutty jokes and a plot that bears only the flimsiest relation to the fairy tale in question? Tick, tick and tick again for 2023. And yet not. Whisper it quietly, but this much-loved formula has been tinkered with – for the better.
A new writer, locally born Luke Barnes, has stuck more closely to the traditional Cinderella plot than has been the case for recent previous pantos, while maintaining an Everyman-esque twist questioning the presumption that happily ever after means conventional marriage. Here we have shoe fittings, ugly sisters of sorts, a pumpkin carriage and a (Vogue) ball; signposts that give younger audience members in particular something to help them follow proceedings amid the chaos elsewhere. For fear not: the amiable anarchy that regulars expect is still very much present.
Yet the staging is crisper and production tighter this year, meaning there is very little padding in a show of just over two hours. The cast are a talented bunch too, working their way through a musical repertoire that has diversified from rock ‘n’ roll to embrace Lorde, Daniel Bedingfield and the hit musical Six as well as more guitar-led numbers. Grace Venus, still in her final year of training at the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts and making her professional theatre debut as the Cinderella figure Ellanora, does a valiant job and for the most part holds her own. Thomas Fabian Parrish (Prince Charming) gives off strong Tim Minchin vibes as the reluctant suitor who’d rather be left in peace with his comics, while Zoe West (who was brilliant as Scrooge in Shakespeare North’s Christmas Carol last year) harnesses Mr Wormwood from Minchin’s version of Matilda in her portrayal of Ellanora’s wheeler-dealer dad.
However, it is Ben Welch’s ribald charisma as Dame Fairy Godmother and the powerful vocals of Aminita Francis as the Queen that steal the show. They, like everyone else involved in this joyful production – right down to the usher who was tasked with holding up a ‘no photos please’ sign throughout the interval and danced the entire time – look like they’re having a great time. So, therefore, are the audience.
Main image: Ben Welch as Dame Fairy Godmother in Cinderella © Marc Brenner
Cinderella is at the Liverpool Everyman until January 20, 2023. For more information, follow this link: Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse theatres