Review by Nigel Smith
THE brainchild of Producer Bill Elms, Liverpool Theatre Festival brings just over a week of live theatre performances to the glorious space of St Luke’s Bombed Out Church on Leece Street. Uniquely an enclosed space that’s in the open air, St Luke’s is an oasis in the heart of town and a perfect location for reigniting theatre.
Individual local production companies have created all the shows, and opening the festival is Wise Tortoise Entertainment’s ‘A Fairytale Journey Across The Mersey’, described by writer/director Kai Jolley as a Panto Mashup. It’s a madcap 50 minute family show that takes a collection of favourite panto characters and archetypes and throws them together into a picaresque rescue mission.
Jolley’s tale begins, in a bit of location fantasy worthy of Donizetti, on a tropical island somewhere not far from the Mersey. A vertically challenged giant has stolen all the island’s coconuts in revenge for the theft of The Heart of the Mersey, a precious stone that has been taken by Prince Charming as a gift for Cinderella. The feisty Maureen Ann, known as Mo-Anna (‘See what we did there?’) sets out to recover the stone in order to secure the return of the precious coconuts. On her way she is aided – or possibly hindered, by her Granny Manny – the panto dame of the piece – Snow White, and a mop-headed fitness instructor going by the curiously familiar name of Joe Weetabix.
The show is propelled forward by a cleverly assembled collection of songs, from Don’t Stop Me Now to the Monster Mash. There are some great vocals by the four-strong cast, accompanied by a tightly assembled soundtrack. Tilly Smith is Mo-Anna, and alongside her are Eva McKenna as Snow White and the Giant, Benjamin Keith as Prince Charming and Joe Weetabix and James J Kirby turning out a splendid dame with his Granny Manny. The ensemble put huge energy into bringing the zany plot to life and there are some great set pieces, including an accelerating fitness routine, a bubble-fest of a boat journey and storm sequence, and a novel twist on the mandatory ‘We’ll have to do it again then’ routine.
It seems that Jolley has set ‘fun’ as the watchword for the show, as it’s obvious that the cast are having plenty of it throughout, and this infectiously transmits itself to the audience. A Fairytale Journey Across The Mersey is a splendid one-act take on the panto concept, and makes a high-energy and maximum enjoyment opener to a festival that, it’s hoped, will become an annual event.
There’s one thing that won’t be infectious about this show, though, or any of the other performances that make up the festival which runs until until next Sunday. St Luke’s has been carefully adapted as a Covid-secure venue, with temperature checks on entry, seating separated into bubbles for each party booked (from 1-6 people per group) and drinks service to your seat via an ordering app. You can be reassured that the safety of cast, crew and theatregoers has been foremost in the producer’s mind in developing the event.
Further details are available from the festival website at www.liverpooltheatrefestival.com