Aladdin

A new pantomime by Eric Potts

New Wimbledon Theatre

(2009)

Review by John Thaxter

This is just one of a dozen pantomimes freshly penned by the industrious Eric Potts for First Family Entertainment, a new look at an old favourite, downplaying the familiar plot in favour of musical comedy.

Thus both the flight of the magic carpet and the transformation scene in the Genie's cave become cues for songs from Ashley Day's handsomely laddish Aladdin. Meanwhile stage mum Widow Twankey, played with a corncrake voice by Jonathan D Ellis, is less the Peking washerwoman, more a demi-monde diva who spends her nights singing cabaret versions of sophisticated showbiz numbers that would not seem out of place on a Broadway stage.

No wonder she's caught the eye of the Emperor of China, an operetta Daddy in search of a wealthy son-in-law, played with generous charm by Ian Talbot. But Talbot's major contribution is a coherent staging, rare for pantomime: some140 minutes packed with warmth, melody and laughter that will surely go down as one of the best from the Wimbledon stable.

Even villainy wears an avuncular face with Brian Blessed's Abanazar like a pussycat Deuteronomy in Arabian Nights togs, doing his best to whip up the boos and seal his reputation as a magician of the Night, but finally becoming the reformed character we always knew he really was.

Much publicity has surrounded the news that this year Wimbledon has cast no less than four big names to play the role of the Genie of the Lamp - not all at once, of course, but in succession across the five weeks of the run.

First up is the impudent Ruby Wax who offers us her tongue in cheek super-personality, on the phone to her agent while rubbishing the production, including Blessed's booming delivery and the hazards of stage machinery, all the while merrily stirring the plot with her devastating asides and comedy improvisations.

This will prove a hard act to follow for Anita Dobson, Paul O'Grady (or will it be Lily Savage?) and Pamela Anderson (who has already cut two performances of her two week run on health grounds).

The main beneficiary of this innovation is gorgeous Djalenga Scott whose willowy Slave of the Ring takes over the magic action from the non-doing Genies. Her taut, wiggling midriff suggests hours spent in the gym but the result is a wholly aesthetic delight - and the girl delivers her lines with perfect timing and the assurance of a seasoned trouper.

Self-taught magician Sam Bradshaw is also a versatile, highly promising newcomer as the Peking police constable on a variety of wheels. But the knockout star of the show is the ever-present Paul Thornley.

Usually seen as a busy actor at the Orange Tree, National, Open Air, West Yorkshire Playhouse and West End theatres, Thornley here he makes his pantomime debut as an astonishingly limber Wishee Washee, a fine light comedian doing twisting leaps at every entrance and almost carrying the whole show with his winning personality.

Finally a big round for Sarah Dean's dance troupe whose ensemble work is not just choreographic decoration but a dynamic contribution to the evening, while the show's vocal standouts are happily also the romantic pairing of Day's Aladdin and his pretty princess, played by Leila Benn Harris, their voices joined in perfect harmony and whose love affair rounds off a production that deserves to win boffo business at the box office.