Review: The Scouse Cinderella at Royal Court Liverpool

By Nigel Smith

THE Royal Court have taken a very different tack with this year’s Christmas show, jettisoning their usual recipe in favour of a traditional pantomime given a distinctly adult Royal Court makeover.

In a year that has given us more than our fair share of politics we might feel that, in the season of good will, Christmas shows would offer a welcome respite. However, in an introductory programme note, writer / director / producer Kevin Fearon explains that he holds very strong feelings (and understandably so) about the Council’s move to sell off public green spaces to property developers. Thus a sub plot lies under this Cinderella story, in which our heroes are trying to find the cash to buy back Liverpool Woods. Far from being a subtle undercurrent, this political message is written right through the script like the word Blackpool in a stick of rock.

Continuing to make excellent use of the theatre’s recently restored revolving stage, Richard Foxton’s handsome set provides a splendid sequence of settings, from the mysterious Liverpool Woods to the grandeur of St George’s Hall. The costume department have gone to town too, especially with outfits for Lindzi Germain’s evil stepmother and Paul Duckworth and Andrew Schofield’s ugly sisters.

Duckworth and Schofield are, as ever, scene stealers in their turn as the sisters Choo and Brook. A word of warning to any would-be hecklers in the audience – this pair will always come out on top in any war of words! Keddy Sutton in a fat suit and bald cap is Mayor Hardupson. There are no prizes for guessing this political reference, but Sutton makes maximum comic advantage of this unusual positioning of the show’s trouser role.

A huge crowd-pleaser is Lindzi Germain, who firstly plays Cinderella’s recently deceased mother (returning magically from the grave) and then, for the rest of the show, her evil twin sister Lil Redrowding, who plots not only to acquire the woods for her building firm, but also to win the rare and magical Liverpool Diamond. Her renditions of a couple of Shirley Bassey numbers (with frocks to match) are real high points in the show.

Cinders herself is played with brave gusto by a very pregnant Hayley Sheen, who sensibly has an understudy, Eva McKenna, listed in the cast. McKenna meanwhile does take to the stage in the guise of a Stage Manager, during an uproarious sequence that provides a starring role for the revolving set alongside the rest of the cast. In another reference to panto ritual, cover for a scene change is provided by Choo and Brook singing the 12 days of Christmas as a tongue twister in front of a drop cloth. Here the usual array of household items is replaced by the ingredients for a boozy night out, ending in drunken mayhem.

Stephen Fletcher is Peter Prince, whose makeup more than nods at Adam Ant’s Prince Charming. He is all set to outbid Lil for the Liverpool Woods and to take Cinders’ hand in marriage, but Michael Fletcher’s Buttons has other plans, that come to fruition in a surprising reversal both of fortunes and our usual expectations for the ending.

Musical accompaniment from the excellent pit band under Howard Gray’s direction provides the soundtrack and, although it occasionally overpowers the voices onstage, the sound balance is generally good.

The Scouse Cinderella is a great alternative for anyone who’s allergic to pantomime or children’s shows, with its robust dialogue and deliberate subversion of the traditional formula, and it certainly gets the audience on their feet.