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Aladdin

by on 15 December 2017

A Cornucopia of Panto

Aladdin

by Jonathan Kiley and Alan McHugh

Qdos Entertainment and ATG
at Richmond Theatre until 14th January

Review by Mark Aspen

“Everything you could wish for in a panto”. So says the advertising blurb for Richmond Theatre’s production of Aladdin. And this is a pretty accurate description of what you get, with everything piled into this cornucopia of panto treasure. From its glitzy opening front-drop to its ceramic finale (ceramic? …more about that later) there are more riches, well, bling, that you would find in Aladdin’s cave.

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The approach is traditional panto knock-about fun with a little musical romance thrown in to soften things. With all the abrasive news about this year, political references are out. The near-the-pale innuendoes are in, but come so fast that you need to be well tuned-in to catch them. This leaves the field wide open for traditional family pantomime, and all the children and mums and dads that packed the theatre on press night certainly had a rollicking good time. (Whoops! did I almost fall into an n-t-p innuendo?)

 
The dads may have been slightly disappointed about the absence of a thigh-slapping principal boy, but this is more than made up for by the four gorgeous and lithe ladies, who together with the two (for the mums) equally handsome and athletic young men, form the ensemble of dancers. The versatile contemporary dance skills of this ensemble, expertly choreographed by Paul Robinson, make a scintillating foil for the shenanigans of the stage.

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And on this stage nothing is spared for a sparkling spectacle. There is no danger of being under-the-top. Pyrotechnics come almost as fast as the quick-fire jokes. (There lots of flashy things on this stage.) Pete Watts’ lighting and Tom Marshall’s sound designs make for an exuberant extravaganza. Add in glitter balls, flutter drops, bubbles and smoke and it adds up to quite a spectacle. Then to all this lavishness, there are Mike Coltman’s mind-bendingly inventive speciality costumes. (These include washing machines, teapots, prison cages and talking coolies; and that’s just a start!)

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Who better could there be to fill these costumes, than the humourist and raconteur Christopher Biggins. As Widow Twankey, one can understand why he is called a pantomime legend. Totally relaxed on the stage, at one with his fellow cast members and audience alike, pantomime is his genre. It takes some verve to make a first entrance wearing oversize cherries on an oversize bosom, or to try not to corpse when a leg falls off of one of your more outrageous costumes. The traditional pre-finale children-on-stage novelty song is I Am the Music Man and when a bemused toddler is presented with an enormous trombone, it requires a skilled and kindly performer to teach him how to get a note out of it.

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Comfortably within the variety tradition, the part of Emperor Ming is filled by Count Arthur Strong, the inseparable alto ego of Steve Delaney. The Count (now firmly rooted via Kommedia at the EdFringe and BAFA-lauded television) is not to be parted with his trademark trilby even for an imperial crown, but then again he has landed the position of Emperor via his local job-centre. The poor old Emperor is the butt of many of the gags, none more so than the panto staple, the novelty song of If I Were Not [Upon the Stage] (here In Old Peking). In this version, the swinging arms don’t miss, plus all the other principals come round as a second persona; this time parting him from the trilby (It didn’t go with the tutu anyway.)

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Equally consummate in the stand-up (or knock-down) comedy role is Rikki Jay as Aladdin’s brother Wishee-Washee. The ebullient Jay soon has the children of the audience firmly “in his gang” rallied with a “Wacko, wacko Wishee!”. His zip motors the show along, firing up every gag with impressive energy. The now standard shopping trolley routine fairly rattles along in his hands, as he puns away over the groceries, recounting his romantic adventures at the check-out. After the interval, he goes into overdrive with a patter routine giving a resume to Widow Twankey of the story so far, which had the audience convulsed with laughter. Jay understands what pantomime is all about.

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Now, every good story needs a goody and a baddy, and as baddies come Abanazar is up there with the baddiest. Blackly bejewelled, Bob Harms begets boos like no other, relishing the role of Abanazar, as he sends the youngest members of the audience scurrying under their seats. But there is more to Harms than “bringing on the booze” (as W-W puts it): he has a magnificent singing voice. Act Two starts with an atmospheric dance sequence with the ensemble, which features Abanazar’s song, Better the Devil You Know and exhibits the full power and richness of Harms’ baritone.

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Leading the goodies side is Issy van Randwyck as the Genie of the Ring, Scheherazade, the perfect antithesis of Abanazar, as soothing as perfumed balm one moment, mischievously twinkling the eye the next. Van Randwyck is a truly versatile actress, taking Shakespeare, edgy drama or musicals all in her stride. I remember seeing her at the EdFringe in the comedy cabaret Fascinating Aïda, where she has clearly honed the panto comic timing, pitched just right to parry with the other three principals.
The Genie of the Ring of course teams with The Genie of the Lamp, here a puppet the height of the prosc’ arch from which he springs rather alarmingly out from amongst the pyros. A rather battered but endearing Satchmo sound-alike, he is the creation of the award-winning special effects team, The Twins FX. They are busy in this production, culminating in the spectacular flying carpet, which takes Aladdin, seemingly unsupported, swooping out over the audience in the stalls. This is his flight from Peking to Egypt, largely an excuse for some business with mummies and for a pyramid-full of puns, but ostensibly to rescue his love interest, the Princess Jasmine.

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In the eponymous role, newcomer AJ Jenks is a very personable Aladdin, head over heels for the Princess Jasmine, demurely and prettily played by Denquar Chupak. The script does not give the couple too much to get their teeth into, so to speak. (They are proposing marriage a few sentences after first meeting.) However, it does give then some good singing opportunities and they have a number of nicely touching duets. One, You Are My Everything, has a solo soprano introduction which is sung with great precision and clarity by Chupak.

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The musical aspects of this production add a very pleasant bonus to a family show. And the music is in good hands with Musical Director Pierce Tee leading his band of four musicians from the keyboard.

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Director, Ken Alexander, has put everything he has wished for in this panto, and some more besides, and has obviously had great fun putting together an enjoyable show. The cast and company’s fun and enjoyment is readily infectious and has audience and cast laughing together at many points. Aladdin’s cave is open to the family, with all its bling and glitz. Oh, and that … ceramic … finale: a beautiful secondary colour tableau of the Willow Pattern of old China (and old china) to set off primary colours of the closing fireworks.

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Mark Aspen
December 2017

Photography by Craig Sugden

 

From → Pantomime, Reviews

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