SATURDAY 3RD DECEMBER 2016 – Unity Theatre, Liverpool – Review by Tate James, originally written for The Reviews Hub.

This festive family offering is a treat from the minute we enter the woods until we leave at the end, humming the tunes. The Unity Theatre is transformed into a dark and mysterious forest direct from the pages of a storybook in a witty and intelligent production that engages adult and child alike.

In the hands of four perfectly-pitched performers we are taken on a fast-paced musical journey through the woods. We all know the story: with her mother’s directions to never stray from the path, Little Red takes a pie to her sick grandmother and happens across a wolf en route. Luca Rutherford’s Little Red is brave and sweet as the pie she carries, in her adamance that she is not a little girl. Natalia Campbell and Simone Lewis (excellent as Mother and Grandma respectively) play matriarch and more as they dance with trees, howl and worry about our young heroine. Harvey Robinson is every bit the suave wolf who charms Little Red, with extra quirk as he insists on the pleasantries and customs of human beings’ mealtime.

Kevin Dyer’s script is tickled with humour and nuance, mirrored by Patrick Dineen’s charming original music. There is no room for twee dialogue or sickly sweet Pantomime-sounding melodies in this show. Instead, under Nina Hajiyianni’s skilful direction, it alludes to Lemony Snicket and Roald Dahl with its ability to stimulate its young audience. Sydonie Paterson’s design is simple but enchanting, paired with Julie Kearney’s bold lighting design, to create a versatile woodland space, making the setting extra-magical. The creation of the path and chases through the woods are particular highlights, and even the moments for children’s participation are well-timed and thoroughly entertaining, never obvious or generic.

Whether or not you have plans with your youngsters this Christmas, you should definitely stray from the path to visit the Unity… but watch out for wolves!

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST – The Everyman Rock ‘N’ Roll Panto

WEDNESDAY 30TH NOVEMBER 2016 – Everyman Liverpool – Review by Tate James, originally written for The Reviews Hub.

If you seek singing teapots and a mob of angry villagers then this is not the night for you. If you seek a multi-talented cast to make you laugh and wow with impressive vocals then the Everyman’s Alternative Christmas offering could be.

There’s Belle, a magical rose and a Beast transformed by the spell of an evil witch, a spell which only True Love’s Kiss can lift. That is where the similarities with the tale of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ we know end, as the Souvenir Programme foreword confesses. In this version, Belle is our Dame, the heroine’s mother, stranded on an island with only her Brother-In-Law Sebastian and a fearsome Beast. The Beast is King Tyrell, punished by the evil witch Narcissus, desperate to rule over the mortal and fairy worlds combined. With no enchanted crockery in sight, the powers of good come from a group of fairies watching over the helpless mortals. There’s a magic mirror, the pool of life, fairy moon cycles, growth potions, the list goes on… So it is easy to understand why some of the younger audience members struggle to keep up with the intricate storyline in the first half. Thankfully the second half brings us more of the silliness we’d expect: slapstick, shout outs, brilliantly unnecessary musical outbursts and the all important (say it with me) “Audience Participation Bit”.

The Everyman has assembled a wonderful cast of actor-musicians to delight their audiences this year, with many of the 10-strong company playing multiple instruments alongside their accomplished singing prowess. Stephanie Hockley as our heroine Rose White is every bit the perfect Panto Princess, in fine voice and utterly charming next to the towering stature of Raj Paul’s Beast. Adam Keast and Francis Tucker, as camp comic and butch Dame respectively, present much of the evening’s comedy, culminating in a highly amusing Identical-Twins-Reunited sequence. Their constant stream of effortless innuendo slips right over the heads of the younger ones and knocks right into the funny bones of the older ones. Lucy Thatcher’s evil queen is beautifully wicked and her yellow-clad bewitched sidekick, Tom Connor as Sir Cyril of the Wirral, plays his part and his electric guitar with great skill. Lauren Silver’s good fairy brings a magical warmth to proceedings and the talented ensemble is rounded off with excellent cameos from Danny Burns and Emmy Stonelake in a multitude of roles providing some of the standout moments of the night. Watch out for Stonelake’s Magic Mirror and soul-filled rendition of “Proud Mary”.

Dinah England’s design is exquisite, each fabulous costume more silly and extravagant than the last and the multipurpose set bedecked in twinkling lights boasts an accessible area for the musicians to come and go between their acting scenes, a constant reminder of how important music is in this Rock ’n’ Roll extravaganza. Under Greg Last’s direction, the musical arrangements are intelligent and impressive, even if there are a few too many songs, particularly in the long first half. The joy of pantomime is its decision not to take itself too seriously and for the silliness to out-balance the plot. This production has all of the right ingredients and though the final potion is delightful, the spell is over-complicated.

As Fairy Poppy says “All it takes is True Love’s Kiss… so get stuck in”