The Theatre Royal’s decision to go beyond its usual local talent pool for casting this year’s panto has mixed results. Importing two former stars of reality smash The Only Way is Essex is a quick way to spruce up – or, more fittingly, vajazzle – your production but it makes for a slightly lopsided show.
Amy Childs throws herself into the role of Slave of the Ring, but her line delivery is monotonous. But Childs’ cousin Harry Derbidge – known as TOWIE’s primary catchphrase originator – is a revelation. He has energy to spare and he bounces off the more seasoned, homegrown cast well, even if Liam Mellor’s script neglects them in favour of the Essex contingent.
After a disjointed first half, the pace quickens, the action coheres and the comedy set-pieces land, giving St Helens comic Simon Foster’s salty Widow Twanky ample chance to shine and Ben Engelen’s likeable Wishee Washee time to connect with the kids. A lip-sync battle between Derbidge and Warren Donnelly’s underpowered Abanazar works thanks to Derbidge’s exuberance and a final medley reaches the heights of inspired lunacy when Childs sings Joe Dolce’s Shut Up Your Face.