The first pantomime at the recently refurbished former Neptune Theatre contains all the traditional fairytale elements and plenty of saucy hilarity - but is so overwritten that it ought to begin with “Once upon a very long time”.
Bursting through the fourth wall with down-to-earth characters and a super-charged dance team, what makes the production initially so enjoyable is its ability to generate enough energy to power the National Grid. Philip Olivier sets the switched-on tone with his interactive Buttons. Strutting the stage in dazzling designer bling, Liverpool songstress Sonia lifts the temperature as the horrid step-mum from hell. Alison Crawford’s feisty Cinderella is every little girl’s super-hero, and teenager Stuart Campbell acquits himself in his professional debut as Prince Charming. Even celebrity Nikki Grahame has plenty of go as the Fairy Godmother - although a magic spell might improve her singing.
When Michael Chapman and Brian Dodd arrive as street-wise ugly sisters, ASBO havoc is let loose. Tracy and Stacy are gloriously garish comic creations, but over-reliance on their presence proves counter-productive story-wise, laughter-wise and pace-wise. Even in vulgar pantoland, less is more.
Elsewhere, the sets are bright and colourful, but under-wattaged lighting and over-amped backing tracks (and possibly some miming) take away from what could become, with pruning, panto perfection.