Most theatres go for the time-honoured option of choosing a classical pantomime and then reworking the script for topical and regional purposes. This particular theatre, on the other hand, has built a reputation for dishing up something different. Back in 2009, Fred Lawless presented them with a script about two neighbours, one an avid Everton fan and the other a staunch Liverpool supporter. Merry Ding Dong was an instant success and it set a Royal Court precedent.
Each year since has seen a brand new Christmas comedy which such titles as Scouse Pacific, Nightmare on Lime Street and Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fazakerley; shows that encompass the sublime predictability of a panto but with a totally original storyline.
And whilst “normal” pantomimes are aimed primarily at children, whilst at the same time laced with double entendre that will go over tender young heads, the Royal Court Christmas Shows are unashamedly adult humour gift-wrapped in scousness.
This year I was unable to attend the official press night due to prior commitments, so my review is a good week later than normal. So although I make it a rule to never read other reviews before writing mine, I’m sure most of what needs to be said has been said by now. And if there is any justice, this show will have racked up a whole bunch of 4 and 5 star ratings.
First, let me add a little perspective. As it was Jayne’s birthday, we left wet Wales to spend a couple of days in an equally wet Liverpool and on the first night treated ourselves to a “psychological thriller” at The Playhouse. I deliberately put that description in parenthesis because the most thrilling part was Jayne’s phone going off –unsilenced! In the end, we only managed 35 minutes of The Haunting of Hill House before becoming comatose with boredom.
Walking out of The Playhouse mid way though the first half, cemented what I already knew: Home-grown Royal Court productions, drawing from a pool of talented Liverpool actors, writers and directors, have hit upon a magic formula that puts bums on seats and keeps them coming back again and again. Real down-to-earth scouse humour is what makes the Court great and sets it world’s apart from your typical “luvies” theatre.
From the very second the curtain goes up on Pharaoh ‘cross the Mersey you are drawn in to a fast-moving musical comedy wonderland that doesn’t let up until the final curtain call.
It was just perfect. From Andrew Schofield’s (much flaunted) raggy underpants to Hayley Hampson’s lovely legs; from Mickey Stark’s magnificent stage presence to Lindzi Germain’s powerful singling voice; from Michael Fletcher’s rolling Russian accent to the expressive tom-foolery-in-a-fez of Danny O’Brien.
But if I just made the aforementioned sound like pantomime clowns, I can assure you they are all far more than that. They are talented actors with perfect comedy timing, the ability to take a scripted part and make it their own, great singing voices, and many of them fine musicians too. And they all truly understand Royal Court audiences.
As in previous years, the music, performed live on stage, forms a thread which ties the whole show together. Songs we all know, often with suitably changed lyrics, seem to leap out of every pun. Songs that fill the whole place with energy and have you bouncing along in your seats.
I mentioned sublime predictability earlier. Well when Andrew Schofield answered “eight” to the question “how many love potions have you tried making up to now?” you just know what song the band are about to strike up!
Alex Smith has cemented his position as musical director since stepping up to the mark when Howard Gray took on the role of director.
If you’ve been to any of the Royal Court’s previous Christmas shows, Pharaoh ‘cross the Mersey is everything you’ll want it to be – and more! If it’s your first time, I promise you it won’t be your last.
The show runs until January 16th and you can book on line at the theatre’s Box Office. Do yourself a favour – do it now!
5/5 – This is definitely a five star rating for the six actors on stage and for the dozens of off stage production and theatre staff who make it all possible.
Click to enlarge and let the pictures tell the story
Footnote: It was great to see the new foyer and box office taking shape. All credit to the theatre staff for keeping this lovely Art Deco style theatre functioning through all the alterations.