We know it’s going to be good. Well, we remember last year’s Cinderella, don’t we? What fun it was? Well this year we’ve got the same writer, Andrew Pollard, and the same director, Ryan McBryde. Not sure if Andrew will actually get to see this production at Salisbury, though. He’s playing the Dame in Peter Pan in Greenwich at the moment (No, I don’t know how he does it, either).
The story’s familiar. It takes place in Old China. Aladdin (Taylor Fayose) is the son of impecunious washerwoman Widow Twanky (Richard Ede). When Aladdin is persuaded by evil villain Abanazar (Lynden Edwards) to go into the sinisterly dark cave to retrieve the magic lamp, things get complicated, particularly as there are, not just one, but two genies, the genie of the lamp (Melissa Brown-Taylor who also plays the police chief) and the genie of the ring (Nerine Skinner), with her delightful personality and extensive knowledge of quantum physics. Will these two get together and become friends? We all hope so.
The show begins with an empty stage, apart from a red backdrop and an amorphous green blob. White smoke is seeping from the bottom of the backdrop and the top of the blob. We don’t yet understand the significance of the blob or its accompanying smoke but it’s bound to be important, isn’t it?
And there are plenty of other things to speculate about. Of course the Emperor (Fred Broom) and Widow Twanky are going to get together in the end, aren’t they? As are Princess Jasmine (Rebecca Hazel) and Aladdin, surely. And Abanazar? Not much likelihood of reformation there, although, this being pantomime, anything can happen, can’t it?
But on the way there’s going to be fun, excitement and, because of Aladdin’s ambition to be a rock star, a lot of wonderful singalong music and dancing with, as last year, musicians actually there on stage.
Colour is important, of course, with lots of red, pink and orange—the Emperor’s palace and Peking market; even Dame Twanky’s washing machine, in which the Emperor is systematically caught up, washed, squeezed between gigantic rollers and finally ejected, not just once but three times, has to conform to the rule.
Then there are all the familiar rituals of pantomime, of course: the birthdays, the which-half-sings-the-loudest competition and constant interactions with the audience (surprise is expressed, at one point, that anyone would be brave enough to sit in the front row at a panto) and topical references. Donald Trump is mentioned twice.
But isn’t it the completely unexpected character or happening that we remember most? Aladdin’s poignant farewell to Ping Pong the panda as he escapes on a magic carpet from the Himalayan mountains, flying high over the auditorium? The introduction of a friendly yeti?
And then there’s the audience. A lot of children, certainly, but also many grandparents. They didn’t need prompting. I don’t know if they remembered from last year, but direction from the actors seemed superfluous. They knew what was expected and responded with enthusiasm and joy.
If you’d been there, Andrew, I think you would have been delighted. Standing ovation? From the entire audience? That was just the start of it.
So you and Ryan are going to come back to Salisbury for next year’s panto, aren’t you? Along with this energetic, highly talented and charismatic cast? If tonight’s audience has anything to do with it, the answer must definitely be, "oh yes we are!"
Reviewer: Anne Hill