St Helens Theatre Royal
Streaming until January 31st 2021
St Helens Theatre Royal and Regal Entertainments were one of the few venues able to present a Christmas pantomime during the the recent festive season - thanks to the Liverpool area's indoor performance-permitting tier two status.
Sadly the show had to lower the curtain prematurely on December 30 when this status changed, but luckily the performance on Christmas Eve had already been recorded live and could be streamed online instead (until the end of the month).
The show, written by Liam Mellor and directed by Chantelle Nolan, is certainly a panto for these "unprecedented times" - the impact of the current pandemic is felt onstage and off.
But despite the sanitiser station at the edge of the stage (wasn't sure if this was totally a gag or not), the ensemble dancers wearing perspex face coverings, and the lack of audience participation (stamping feet replaced shouting out), the current situation in no way diminished the fun being had.
As you might expect, Covid-19's impact on 2020 was the predominant theme of the show, with gags galore on the topic. Songs were tweaked (Baby It's Cold Outside became Baby It's Covid Outside, Belle and the Beast crooned about love "From a Distance'... you get the idea), Boris Johnson impressions and a brilliant version of The 12 Days of Covid brought the house down (all together now - "two-metre distance, and a useless Track and Trace app..."). It felt good to be able to laugh at the situation for a change.
The likeable cast - many of whom will be familiar to regular Theatre Royal panto audiences - was on fine form throughout.
Olivia Sloyan was an admirably fiesty Belle, showing off a fine voice and dance skills, who worked well alongside Andrew Geater's dignified Beast/Prince.
Tim Lucas was a clear audience favourite as the vain, posturing Gaston, showing off great physicality in the role alongside strong vocals. As his doting, pouting mummy Madam Botox, Abigail Middleton was a lot of fun.
Scott Gallagher steered proceedings along with charisma and ease in the comedy role of French Frank - the Prince's Covid Safety Officer, getting the chance to show off a nice singing voice too. Jamie Greer was clearly having bags of fun as Dame Pretty Polly, and he and Gallagher made a fun comedy pairing. Jenna Sian O'Hara brought bags of sparkly northern charm to her role as Fairy Rose.
So bravo to all the team for proving that a "Covid-secure" pantomime doesn't haven't to sacrifice panto magic. We enjoyed it on a rainy Sunday afternoon but it would equally be a nice family treat after an afternoon of home schooling. Panto doesn't have to be just for Christmas after all.
The show is streaming until January 31. Tickets (£20 per device) and information here.