Aladdin (Online review)

Aladdin (Online review)

It being the third day of my big Panto weekend there was one element that had been noticeably missing from the occasion, even from the highly traditional Jack And The Beanstalk the day before which had more or less managed to throw every expected ingredient into the mix. And that was the sound of an audience response, particularly that of children. There’s no such problem with Aladdin which was filmed last year before mask wearing, social distancing and the pandemic was still just a twinkle in the world’s collective eye. Was it really only under a year since we could sit in massed ranks, sharing an experience and expressing our approbation by being as noisy as we liked? It seems much longer sometimes.

Aladdin-At-The-Roses-Theatre-30th-November-to-4th-January

This version of another highly traditional panto was recorded at the Roses Theatre in Tewkesbury in front of large numbers of primary school children and a scattering of adults; it was also being live streamed to a number of children’s hospitals countrywide. Who knew that Tewkesbury was in the vanguard of what was soon to become a theatrical norm? The show contains the essence of local theatrical endeavours at this time of year in that there are no big star names, no soap actors or reality show contestant Z listers but just a small bunch of professionals interacting with a pool of local talent to provide a real community feel to what they are achieving.

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The show starts out with a very neat filmed idea. Wicked uncle Abananzar (or Avabanana as he regularly gets called – which gives you a sense of the level the script is working at) is seen riding down Tewkesbury High Street on a real camel and going to the local hardware store in search of the fabled lamp; while he’s gone his camel gets a parking ticket. After this promisingly offbeat opening we are back in (highly familiar) territory. The script, of course, is fairly dreadful but we wouldn’t really have it any other way; it is laced with ludicrous characterisations, dreadful puns, contrived situations and a dodgily inserted melange of songs in the manner of the old short plays on Crackerjack (“CRACKERJACK!”) As has become traditional in Aladdin the action has mostly been shifted from the Middle East to China or, at least, a mythical version of China where the Empress (Margaret Preece) speaks with cut glass English vowels, the locals run takeaways and laundries and martial arts are the pastime of choice. If it wasn’t panto the whole thing might be considered borderline racist.

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However, both Aladdin and Princess Jasmine, despite their costumes, seem determinedly British. They are played by stage newcomers James Squire and Esme Rothero; the former makes his mark but the latter I wasn’t so sure about, as she seemed to me to be slightly divorced from proceedings. The one thing that’s true of any panto is that it has to be played with conviction no matter how odd the story line gets or what piece of nonsense one is required to do. And odd it certainly becomes with some set pieces that only scrape through because of the context in which they are being played. The second half, especially, gets increasingly bizarre midway through with a section that uses Czechoslovakian black light theatre techniques interspersed with a local children’s dance troupe portraying a group of tap-dancing meerkats – neither Chinese nor Middle Eastern but who cares about geography? Certainly not the schoolkids who have a whale of a time and at one point almost drown out the action. They are particularly delighted when Mr Davis, one of their teachers, catches Widow Twankey’s roving eye and is made the butt of continuous jokes.

Roses Theatre Pantomime 2019 Alladdin

The Dame is played by Ben Eagle (apparently a Tewkesbury regular) who obviously knows how to appeal to the crowd and together with Michael Watson-Gray as Wishee-Washee are clearly the panto old hands/experts. Eagle’s gowns become increasingly outrageous indeed the costuming takes Technicolour as its starting point and then ramps it up several notches; to be picky there needed to have been more thought given to the footwear. Benedict Martin clearly relishes playing the villain, though I found the puppet he was saddled with (Basil the Snake) didn’t add much – in fact it became rather aggravating. There’s also a strange monkey like figure which seemed superfluous, a pair of genies (genii?) which could have done with greater differentiation and, perhaps in an attempt to get the grey vote (?) there’s Mrs Twankey Senior, a kung fu enthusiast.

Panto is by nature a glorious mish mash and director/author Ben Crocker does well to keep everything moving along without too many longueurs. Generally not a fan of panto I’ve actually started to understand its appeal – especially in this most difficult of years. It’s like a warm comfort blanket which presents us with the totally familiar (there was one joke that appeared in both Jack and Aladdin) while still throwing in a few surprises. This version of Aladdin won’t be winning any prizes but at least it puts back that absolutely vital ingredient – the audience. And anyway, any stage show that can squeeze in songs by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Shirley Bassey, Elton John, Lionel Bart, Chumbawumba and The Arctic Monkeys must have something going for it!

Aladdin is available on You Tube until December 31st – click here

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