The Pantodrome, Whickham School, Gateshead
Everything about this Aladdin shouts “traditional.”
The script is totally faithful to the story (something that doesn’t always happen nowadays) and has just the right amount of the romance so that the kids’ attention doesn’t wander. And Aladdin himself has enough of the naughty boy about him to appeal to the kids and make the adults smile.
There’s loads of audience participation of the “Oh no it isn’t!” and “It’s behind you!” kind, often building up to screaming pitch—which is what it’s all about. And, of course, Widow Twankey flirts with a man in the front row. Guess where I was sitting! Mrs T, I am perfectly willing to kiss your hurt finger better, and your hurt cheek too, but there are certain things at which I draw the line…
The sets are bright and in the traditional panto style and the transitions between scenes are generally smooth and quick—this was the first night, so we can excuse a little slowness at times. The costumes are bright and colourful, especially Widow Twankey’s, although she never quite reached the heights of sartorial outrageousness that some Dames do—although the Twister mat costume provided an opportunity for just a slight touch of rudeness!
There’s comedy galore, including the slightly rude for the kids (oh, how they love poo jokes!) and the rather risqué for the adults. Many of the much loved panto jokes enjoy their annual outing from the Old Jokes’ Home and the ever-popular comic scenes are there too. The slosh scene was good and sloshy and the take-off scene went down well, as ever—although I think they could have wound up the kids rather more. The requisite heights of hysteria weren’t quite reached!
There are well sung songs and enjoyable dance routines from the boys and girls of the chorus and the Babes. Neither, however, are overdone. Rather too often, pantos seem to be keen to get in as many songs as possible, to the detriment of the pace of the story-telling. Not here.
Every panto, of course, should have one or more of those “oo!” moments, that gasp from the audience at a particularly impressive effect. The flying carpet was this show’s. Even from the front row it looked impressive; from further back it must have looked really great.
All of this, however, would be wasted if the performances were not up to scratch. They are.
Aladdin is played by Jacob Anderton, whom I last saw giving an equally impressive performance in a very different role in The Frights at Newcastle’s Alphabetti. He’s a very engaging principal boy with a mischievous twinkle and a devil-may-care attitude which got the audience on his side straightaway.
Our hero’s brother, Wishee Washee, is the daft lad, the panto’s comic, and Sean Gray plays him with great gusto and evident enjoyment, appealing to every member of the audience—certainly there was a 60-or-so-year-old sitting near me who was very keen to be in his gang.
And what can I say about Widow Twankey? I mean, I’m going to marry her; she told me so! She’s loud and brash, a typical panto Dame. Like Gray, Daniel Mawston has an easy relationship with the audience.
Kiera Falcus gives Princess Jasmine a touch of the feisty to counteract her essential sweetness and Stephen Sullivan as Abanazar revels in getting everyone to hate him. He loves the boos, he tells us. Or was that the booze…?
The two Supernaturals are Charlotte Casey as the Slave of the Ring who is eager to help Aladdin but not Abanazar whom she cannot stand—and boy! does she show it—and Bryce Laverick as a very cheery Genie of the Lamp.
And then there’s the Emperor of China, Jasmine’s dad. He’s very small, has a long Fu Manchu moustache and a very thick Chinese accent. He’s a bit fearsome, though; no one wants to get him riled. He’s played by Jack Johnson who is only 13 years old and, in spite of his young age, holds his own in this much older professional company.
This is the sort of panto which is on offer in small theatres throughout the country every year and, being much closer to the real spirit of the form than the big, glitzy, expensive shows in the 1000+-seater theatres, is a great way to introduce people, young or old, to panto for the first time. It’s great fun.
There was only one thing wrong with it—I think the Widow’s forgotten me. She went off without a word (sad face).
Reviewer: Peter Lathan