Aladdin

Joel Horwood

Lyric Hammersmith

Lyric Hammersmith

From 19 November 2016 to 07 January 2017

Review by Simon Sladen

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One of Pantoland's most produced narratives, this year's Aladdin at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith sees the return of Joel Horwood after last co-penning the venue's panto in 2012.

Horwood's script ticks off many of the panto staples and encompasses Lyric traditions such as excellent chase sequences and the now obligatory drum roll followed by a "Glory, Glory, Hammersmith" singalong in act two.

What makes his script different to most, however, is that the Slave of the Ring is nowhere to be seen and London, or Fulhammerboosh to be precise, has replaced the traditional China.

London venues have always been at the forefront of panto's evolutionary course and the Lyric isn't afraid to challenge expectations. A London setting avoids the usual Orientalism present in Aladdin and, in another refreshing piece of casting, Vikki Stone takes to the stage as Abanazar.

Whilst this isn't a female Abanazar—we may have to wait a few more seasons for that—Stone's green-faced, cross-dressed Villain reminds us of the genre's playful nature, where gender-bending for comic effect has now overtaken that of voyeuristic titillation.  

Channelling Glam-Rock, Marvel and the melodramatic to create a Villain of epic proportions, Stone writhes about the stage full of venom and vivacity as Abanazar sets out to crack his three-stage plan in order to rule the world.

More Disney than Drury Lane in terms of narrative, Horwood's Aladdin sees Abanazar as the Emperor's Advisor, but what makes his re-telling of the tale interesting is the pairing of Widow Twankey and Princess Jasmine.

When Aladdin and Wishy Washy push Twankey one step too far, she throws them out on the streets and it is there they meet Abanazar and agree to assist his quest in order to impress their mother, thanks to promised gold galore.

With the Princess too having run away after an argument with her father, she soon comes across the opportunity of work at Twankey's Pant-a-Manger Launderette and the two strike up a friendship. Not only do they campaign for a change to the law to enable Jasmine to marry whomever she chooses, it is Jasmine who proposes to Aladdin after he is recovered from a secret dungeon thanks to help from a small girl in the audience.

In Aladdin, rather than Jasmine being locked away by Abanazar, Horwood opens up a whole new area of opportunities for the show's conclusion. How do you save the day without the panto's hero? The answer: remind the audience that everyone has the potential to be a hero and that working together achieves great things. Nowhere is this more evident than in the call and response of "You Can Do It!" to a wavering Wishy Washy in times of need, endearingly played by Arthur McBain.

As contemporary, street and full-throttle as ever, this year's pantomime seems a little light on musical numbers with act one's transformation sequence disappointingly underwhelming as an ensemble of light-up butterflies attempt to fill a somewhat bare stage and Aladdin receives a Cinderella-style quick change.

Genie Malinda Paris's powerful voice fills the otherwise void with Allyson Ava Brown and Karl Queensborough's Aladdin and Jasmine duet aboard a magic carpet cut short after a few verses of, somewhat ironically, Taylor Swift's "Blank Space".

The Lyric still hasn't quite cracked an effective slosh scene and a little more heart would go a long way, but no-one can dispute the important role venues like the Lyric are playing in shaping pantomime's future and ridding it of outdated, illogical and somewhat offensive traditions.