The Rock’n’Roll Panto Red Riding Hood review – music is the star in an Everyman institution

Everyman theatre, Liverpool
The eponymous fairytale does not lend itself easily to panto – requiring some princely interference – but the cast is exuberant

We are deep into act two when we find ourselves outside the palm house in Sefton Park, where two Liver Birds in blue Lycra are sharing their wisdom. Played by Adam Keast and Ben Welch, they are all attitude and abrasive Scouse backchat.

It is not an extraordinary scene but it stands out because so far in Peter Rowe’s panto, there have been hardly any Merseyside references. Surprising, because the rock’n’roll panto is such an Everyman institution, on the go since the 1980s, you expect something with Liverpool written all the way through it. A show so placeless is odd.

But that is not what makes Suba Das’s production a stretch – and, at three hours, it is a big stretch. No, that is down to a show that is high on exuberance but low on wit. Rowe’s jokes are creaky – and signalling the creakiest with drum rolls does not make them any less so – and his script makes tiresome reliance on innuendo. For all the spangly costumes and boisterous performances, the actors have too little chance to show their funny bones.

It is also that the story of Red Riding Hood is ill-suited to the panto format. Yes, it has an adventurous and vulnerable lead – and here, a wide-eyed Paislie Reid leads us boldly into the woods – but even if you accept casting the wolf as a pantomime baddie, it makes little sense to present the grandmother as a cross-dressing dame.

Rebecca Levy, Jennifer Hynes and Robert Penny.
Exuberant … Rebecca Levy, Jennifer Hynes and Robert Penny. Photograph: Marc Brenner

Rowe adds romance by importing a chunk of Cinderella (Keaton Guimarães-Tolley playing an undercover prince with the gawky charm of Michael Nesmith from the Monkees) and ups the jeopardy with a plot to steal the deeds of the old woman’s cottage. But the more he strays from the archetypal story, the more convoluted it becomes.

None of this seems to concern the audience, whose primary pleasure is in the music. Under musical director Rob Green, this is the show’s great strength, whether it be the wolf (Damien James) playing heavy metal while swinging down a rope or Reid kicking off I Wanna Dance with Somebody at half speed and finishing it with a kettle-drum solo.


Mark Fisher

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Jack and the Beanstalk review – the climate crisis reaches panto season
The beanstalk in Barrie Hunter’s jolly, tightly choreographed and on-message show is actually a fossil fuel mountain, and the giant is a massive polluter

Mark Fisher

27, Nov, 2022 @11:10 AM

Article image
Jack and the Beanstalk review – no expense spared for giant all-star entertainment
Dawn French, Julian Clary and the like join an animatronic giant with a vast beanstalk in an innuendo-heavy, story-light show

Brian Logan

15, Dec, 2022 @1:04 PM

Article image
Weans in the Wood review – cracking journey to the dark heart of panto
High-density gags featuring a host of fairytale favourites cover up the narrative cracks in Johnny McKnight’s subversive panto

Mark Fisher

27, Nov, 2016 @1:40 PM

Article image
Aladdin review – a breathless and brilliant panto
Gags, raps and forceful female energy boost this production, which has a huge sense of silliness and good cheer

Mark Fisher

15, Nov, 2021 @12:00 PM

Article image
Roy Hudd: a charming star immediately embraced by audiences | Michael Billington
A versatile master of stage, radio and TV, Hudd survived changes in popular taste through his good-hearted skill

Michael Billington

16, Mar, 2020 @2:48 PM

Article image
The Star review – Merseyside music hall reopens with bizarre bill
This celebration of the 19th-century Star theatre is neither boring nor educational – just as Ken Dodd advised its writer, Michael Wynne

Alfred Hickling

14, Dec, 2016 @2:53 PM

Article image
Beauty and the Beast review – precision engineered panto
Kathryn Rooney’s slick production has flawless comic banter and lavish dance routines, providing impressive festive entertainment

Mark Fisher

05, Dec, 2022 @8:00 PM

Article image
Peter Pan’s Labyrinth review – wig out with Barrie, Bowie and Del Toro
Slapdash daftness propels Sleeping Trees’ glam mashup of a Christmas show, though more risk-taking would summon the magic to really fly

Brian Logan

06, Nov, 2022 @11:21 AM

Article image
Mother Goose review – a feather in Hackney Empire’s cap
Clive Rowe gives a masterly performance as he shapes the high jinks while wearing fabulous frocks in infectiously funny panto

Ryan Gilbey

02, Dec, 2022 @11:06 AM

Article image
Dick Whittington: A New Dick in Town review – innuendo a go-go
The gags come thick and fast in this bawdy adult panto, which is set in a funeral parlour and channels Joe Orton

Ryan Gilbey

11, Nov, 2021 @9:00 PM