Writer: Alan McHugh
Director: Bob Tomson
Reviewer: John Roberts
The Empire Theatre’s annual pantomime may have undergone a change of producer, but that doesn’t mean the largest Christmas show in Merseyside has lost any of its glimmer and shine, in fact this year’s offering of Cinderella starring Duncan James (Prince Charming) and Jodie Prenger (Fairy Godmother) still provides a winning formula of celebrity and local talent on full form, giving us a show that is full of song and laughter.
As with past pantomimes at the Empire, the scouse contingent within the cast is huge, albeit a different set of faces that have become commonplace over the past few years… in the titular role of Cinderella is ex-LIPA graduate Olivia Sloyan who is a warm-hearted and strong-voiced princess, but like most pantomimes, the role is woefully underwritten. Stolen from Llandudno is John Evans as Buttons, Cinder’s best friend and loyal aide – he manages to get the audience on side with cracker jokes galore and handles adult audience members as well as the younger crowd brilliantly.
Daniel Taylor and James Templeton are a hoot as the deliciously disgusting ugly sisters Hernia and Verruca respectively – full of vile putdowns that make an evening outside of St John’s Shopping Centre look like a walk in a country garden and garish costumes that just scream loud and proud, you can’t help but love this pair. James manages to keep the audience from being blue, with a more than adequate performance and Prenger more than gets into the mood as a brilliant Fairy Godmother, getting into the rhyme and even throwing herself into a fantastic and arguably the best rendition of if I was not upon the stage alongside Templeton, Evans, and Taylor that this reviewer has ever seen.
Bob Tomson has crafted a well-paced and slick pantomime which comes in at just over two hours including the interval – the transformation scene gives us the wow factor, although the ball gown could have been a little more extravagant considering the other costumes within the show. An interesting choice is the use of original songs within the show, while this gives the production a very musical theatre feel (no surprise considering Tomson’s background) but it does rob the chance of the audience singing with the company throughout. Howard Hudson’s lighting design is as bright as the set design but do we really need that many blinders into the audience, a couple of times fine, but they do start to distract from the action on stage.
Niggles aside, this is still a magical evening of pantomime that sets the bar high for future QDOS productions at the venue over the coming years.
Runs until 7th January 2018 | Mark McNulty