WAS it really like this over a century ago? The era of the musical halls, boisterous audiences and theatrical hopefuls and no-marks just waiting for some Victorian Simon Cowell to launch their careers?

In the post-truth era, who really cares? The Liverpool Playhouse has turned the clock back to the days when it was the Star Music Hall for its Christmas show, simply entitled The Star, but it's a two-way vision of the past.

We never do get to see Boris the Human Cannonball or indeed Dr Colon and his magical large intestine. Perhaps some things are best left to the imagination

Here are the wannabes, might-have-beens and never-will-bes of the entertainment world; as recognisable now as they were then.

Writer Michael Wynne has pulled any number of half-remembered singalong favourites into a narrative that brings together the eternal themes of lovers (young and no-so-young), money and greed, naked ambition and pathetic failure. And, being a Christmas show, a good old sprinkling of stardust.

It almost works, too. Chairman for the night is Liverpool theatre's Mr Reliable, Michael Starke, balancing bonhomie, pomposity and off-stage despair with aplomb. He sets the ball rolling by bringing on Dame Ellen Bloggs - Eithne Browne, another of the scouse troopers who can be counted on 100 per cent - to warm the proceedings up with the old classic My Old Man.

And here is one of the show's weaknesses. Everybody, but everybody, knows the words and can join in with glee, and they do. But in some ways it's the show's big number, and Michael Wynne has shot his bolt in the first ten minutes.

Some brilliantly effective stage design takes us behind the scenes as the show's glamour girl, Ida Valentine, breezes in - Michelle Butterly switching from grande dame to scouse fishwife in the blink of an eye. Ida was once the Chairman's lover, while her costume assistant Dora (Helen Carter) has ambitions  of going on stage herself.

Amid the off-stage tensions, a mysterious toff known only as Mr Charles (Kevin Harvey) lurches around, his legs weakened by a diet of non-stop Champagne. What can he be up to?

OK, relax. It's a Christmas show and it's hardly a plot-spoiler to says that it all ends happily - even though we never do get to see Boris the Human Cannonball or indeed Dr Colon and his magical large intestine. Perhaps some things are best left to the imagination.

The ingredients are all there for a feel-good show that takes a different path from the usual pantos, be they classic of the rock'n'roll variety. 

It doesn't quite come off, but the potential is still there for a big hit.

Maybe the audience should enter in to the Victorian spirit of the occasion and arrive in the Playhouse half-drunk. Three pints per person or gin and tonics ad lib - just don't send the bill to the theatre!