CHRISTMAS in Scouseland starts with the Royal Court's festive show.
The sounds of Roy Wood, Mud and Slade soar over the speakers wishing us all a Merry time ahead. It is just as welcoming and atmospheric as any civic lights switch on.
Multi-coloured fairy lighted trees add to the tinsel-coated ambience as you tuck into a pre-show Christmas dinner starting in the bleak mid- November.
And then there's the show itself – for the past fifteen years there is always exciting anticipation – like awaiting The Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show on the telly.
That's a tall order and the old adage arises: if it it's not broken don't fix it.
Last year's show was exceptional.
A perfect balance … a heady mix of slapstick, silliness, sentimentality and song.
This year, there's a different director at the helm in former Everyman guru Mark Chattendon renowned for co- productions of Rock and Roll pantos.
Now comes the Scouse Dick Whittington.
No changes on the script-writer front – accomplished Kevin Fearon again in charge of the gagging orders.
See what I did there.
The word 'Scouse' is important – this is a show that doesn't need to travel.
It's a local show with local people with mentions of local places.
Wirral gets some big name checks.
And footy-wise Everton FC and LiverpooL FC and a bit of Tranmere Rovers are included.
But this is a seasonal show deeply rooted in Roe Street.
They love breaking the rules here.
This Christmas the emphasis is much more on the music.
The panto genre is loosely used.
This is not only a rock and roll show but a pop, electro, power ballad and mainstream music and dance showcase.
The comedy is (unusually) more of a backdrop with music at the forefront.
That said, the TV quiz Only Connect would have difficulty linking the various hits to the storyline.
That is a significant departure for a Royal Court show where on stage chemistry partnerships and ad-libbing (as well as corpsing) are the joyous norm.
Granted, there is a very solid nine strong cast of old and new faces – it's just that they don't seem to have the freedom to breathe or flesh out their roles.
They are consistently overshadowed by the excellently performed songs.
Yet there are too many songs which, unfortunately, dilutes the convoluted plot which is hard to follow at the best of times.
A lot of the irreverent humour is lost en-route.
The four-piece band – under the expert guidance of Howard Gray – are top-notch from the opener Ready to Rumble to rousing Neil Sedaka finale.
Hayley Sheen shines as Alice. A stunning voice and personality to match.
Dick, played by Adam McCoy in designer shell suit, wants to be Lord Mayor of Liverpool but Andrew Schofield's subdued King Rat has other plans.
Liam Tobin clearly relishes playing a right silly mayor.
Along the way there is a boat adventure and a tour of Austria.
The Eurovision bug is still with the Court!
Dick is accompanied by his cat (Jamie Clarke) and Lindzi Germain turns down her usual high-voltage delivery as Dick's mum Holly Head.
As you can see innuendo is peppered throughout with a Carry On-styled flourish.
All of this takes place on Olivia cu Monceau's Christmas / Twelve Days of Christmas/ advent calendar inspired set complete with gingerbread houses.
Puppetry and projections also feature in the two-and-a-half hour production.
And so to the songs . . . from Neil Diamond's Love on the Rocks, and David Soul's Don't Give Up On Us prepare for a dip into Ultravox, Kraftwerk, Celine Dion, Falco, Bon Jovi and 1950s musical standard from Guys and Dolls, Sit Down You're Rocking the Boat.
This is simply a jukebox show with jingle bells on.
You leave the theatre with the message from the stage: 'See you next year'.
Now that's something to look forward to already.
Verdict: 3 Stars – a seasonal scouse songfest
The production's run ends on January 20.
Tickets from: 0151 709 4321