Alban Arena, St Albans
When Aladdin was first produced as a pantomime in 1788, no-one could imagine the diversity of productions it would breed 224 years on in 2012. This year’s Aladdin at the Alban Arena is fresh, funny and very playful as Evolution Productions continue to contribute to the vibrant diversity of Pantoland in their third pantomime at the venue.
In the title role, Phil Gallagher’s Aladdin is warm, friendly and full of adventure. With no Wishee Washee present, Gallagher’s Aladdin takes on the call and response function of the Comic, with the addition of a hand gesture and silly noise working well to energise the audience and remind them of the jovial joys of pantomime.
Unlike any other genre, audience participation in pantomime is vital. If this does not occur from the moment the cast step foot on stage, establishing the shared community of Pantoland is impossible. Paul Hendy’s script makes sure the audience is actively involved from the off, constantly contributing to the show and thus a heightened sense of community and belonging is achieved.
Another way to strengthen the notion of community is by employing the same performers year on year to establish a quasi-pantomime family. Along with Gallagher, Bob Golding returns to the Alban Arena for his second year, this time also directing. In the role of PC Pongo, Golding functions as the Comic of the piece with his silly antics delighting young and old alike. Although Wishee Washee is no-where to be seen, traditionalists should think carefully about pantomime’s conventions and stock character traits before condemning such a move. After all, prior to Wishee Washee bursting through the mangle in 1889, Aladdin’s Comic was known as Kazrac, Abanazar’s silly slave.
As the wickedest wizard in the world, Shaun Williamson makes a wonderful Abanazar who longs to be “the greatest Shakespearean actor that ever lived,” although by the second act his dream seems somewhat abandoned by the lack of Shakespeare quotations in his dialogue. Pantomime works best when full of contrasts and the humour that arises from the high / low culture clash is strengthened by the referencing of Williamson’s role of Barry in EastEnders. Good celebrity casting manages to match TV part, persona and pantomime role perfectly and Abanazar works on so many levels as Williamson continues the running gag present in Extras and Life’s Too Short that sees him constantly referred to as Barry, which in itself is a fascinating commentary on fame and power.
Hendy has managed to assemble a stellar cast for this production and with clear defined personalities Kelly Chinery’s TOWIE-inspired Spirit of the Ring and Nathaniel Morrison’s body-popping, soul-rocking Genie of the Lamp are two marvellously magical mystics indeed. Both have superb singing voices and although ‘Pricetag’ does provide a strong moral, it lacks the build and pizzazz required for Act One’s triumphant conclusion, shattering the expectations of a disco-inspired up-beat conclusion courtesy of the self-proclaimed Genie of the Lava Lamp.
In her second year as St Albans’s Principal Girl, Jemma Carlisle is a delightful Princess with Jasmine’s onstage father Stuart Nurse delivering a terrifically camp and eccentric performance as the Emperor of China.
Camp is certainly not a word used to describe Sam Rabone’s glorious Widow Twankey complete with Sid James laugh, rollers and laundry pinafore. Rabone’s Dame continues the lineage of Norman Evans and Les Dawson as his working class Widow tries to keep up with the laundry and her son’s high aspirations of marrying the Princess. When Rabone and Golding deliver the ‘one short shirt short’ gag, they demonstrate their ability to deliver comic patter with precision, which is much appreciated by the audience who end up exhausted from laughing and marvelling at their tongue-twister treat.
The Ghost Gag gets a round of applause as soon as the St Albans crowd spot the customary bench and Hendy ensures the obligatory Laundry Sequence makes its way into proceedings. Sadly, slapstick appears in short supply in this scene, save for PC Pongo going through the mangle simply because he ‘looked like he needed it’ and the scene also seems to forget about the Emperor, who remains in the washing machine for the duration without a comedy payoff. However, any lack of slosh is made up for in the Twelve Days of Christmas routine which sees Aladdin and Twankey slide around the stage as poor PC Pongo gets pied every fifth day.
Full of family fun and panto tomfoolery, Evolution Productions have once again provided St Albans with a fantastic festive treat.
Reviewer: Simon Sladen