THE trouble with a winning formula is that each time it's tried again it has to live up to the standard set by its predecessors.

And this is where writer Fred Lawless's latest creation, Pharaoh ‘Cross The Mersey, falls short.

His seventh Yuletide show for the Royal Court - the first being Merry Ding Dong in 2009 - he's produced some true Christmas crackers since, including Scouse Pacific, Little Scouse on the Prairie and last year's superb Scouse of the Antarctic.

The Queen has bizarre ambitions to whip off the unfortunate Bollokov's testicles - perhaps the clue is in his name - in a scene that goes on for far too long

The latter, a Liverpudlian adult comedy variant of Ice Station Zebra, buzzed with imagination and laugh-a-minute dialogue, aided by a spectacular set from designer Richard Foxton and sharp direction by Howard Gray.

This time, the action is switched from the icy wastes to the sun-scorched sands of the desert. Lawless, Foxton and Gray have been transferred with it but it just doesn't hit the mark like it did last year.

Pharaoh does start off promisingly, however, with a cheeky “Harem-Scarem-That’s-Enough-Of-That” song and dance routine, set in a Cairo bazaar, which would have done the Two Ronnies proud.

Boris Bollokov (geddit?) played by Michael Fletcher, and Daisy (Hayley Simpson) - a refugee couple from the Antarctic cast - slip through a time portal back to Ancient Egypt thanks to Daisy's garish silver Liver Bird amulet with its secret super powers .

"Aye, there's some ancient ruins surrounded by sands - just like New Brighton," Daisy exclaims perceptively on her first sight of a pyramid, built upside down by incompetent slaves Bill (Andrew Schofield) and Ben (Danny O’Brien).

So thats what happened to Phil Key (ed)

Here they fall under the thrall of henpecked King Tut and his monstrous wife, Queen Nefertiti, played by another two Royal Court stalwarts, Michael Starke and Lindzi Germain.

Nefertiti, who covets the amulet for its powers, first concocts a love potion that will make Boris fall for her and steals the amulet from his partner. Boris falls for some hapless guy from West Derby sitting in the front  row instead. A similar twist is in operation at the Everyman's panto, Rapunzel, but it sill get lots of laughs.

Then, for no discernible reason, the Queen has bizarre ambitions to whip off the unfortunate Bollokov's testicles - perhaps the clue is in his name - in a scene that goes on for far too long, spanning the break.

The more pedantic among you will wonder why a Queen with such omnipotence didn't just snatch the amulet away from Daisy in the first place, saving all the fuss. Never mind.

Ultimately, it all ends happily and I'll leave you to guess how.  It won't take much thought.

There are high points, though.

The side plot with Schofield, Starke, and O'Brien doubling up as the lost Three Wise Men looking for the Baby Jesus is as hilarious as it is inspired: Starke, especially, looking like he truly is struggling to keep control of a real life camel with itchy feet.

Talking of camels, Foxton's latest ingenious set includes a couple of animated be-humped ones making wisecracks throughout the show.

A big hand too for the house band who expertly played the obvious songs: Walk Like An Egyptian, Night Boat To Cairo, and not so obvious: You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling.

Credit as well to Royal Court's youth theatre whose members Ashlyn Baker, Natasha Riley, Amara Bjorkhaug, Leah Whiteside, made up the ensemble.

Overall, this Pharaoh doesn't live up to the lineage of its illustrious ancestors. It just isn't as funny and the plot has the look of being cobbled together with some good ideas - but lacking coherence.

Firm but pharaoh, you might say.


*Pharoah 'Cross The Mersey runs until Saturday January 16, 2016. Tickets from or on 0151 709 4321.