Nick Mowat and Jamie Greaves
With paper lanterns and Chinese banners adorning the theatre, this can only mean one thing. It's panto time again and this year the good people of Camberley are transported to Peking for an oriental adventure with Aladdin.
Back for the third year running, Mark Slowey makes a tremendous Twankey. His Dame has something of the late Jack Tripp about him and Slowey is careful to never overplay the role. His Twankey balances the fine art of being maternal, yet manic and stylish, yet saucy extremely well.
Until 1813, Aladdin's Villain was simply referred to as the African Magician, but 197 years on Scott Burgess has reinterpreted the role as an Iranian spirit who cannily resembles stand-up comic Omid Djalili, complete with gravelly accented voice; whether Burgess can keep this up over the entire run, only time will tell. However, one can't help but notice that a trick has been missed during the 'All Square Gag' between Abanazer, Sergeant Hokey and Constable Cokey - surely some reference to Moneysupermaket.com should be in place, seeing as Djalili appears in their television adverts? And where was the short blast of 'The Hokey Cokey' to make something of the Chinese Policemen's comic names?
Rounding off the returnees is Will Stokes as Wishee Washee and Stokes is most definitely a pantomime performer to watch. His spritely Wishee not only executes his function in the narrative well, but appears completely at ease during the songsheet. Only true pros can handle this section of the evening's proceedings well, and Stokes, along with experienced Slowey, shows us exactly how it should be done.
Although the first half may be a little too song heavy, the musical numbers are, on the whole, well-chosen and many consist of mash-ups with new lyrics. In fact nearly all of the songs have amended or entirely new lyrics and this makes Aladdin feel fresh and vibrant and demonstrates that the Camberley team put a lot of thought and care into their festive product.
If act one is song heavy, then act two is effect heavy. The narrative is almost thrown out of the window after the interval and Aladdin's second half becomes a tapestry of front cloth pieces, a filmed car sequence, more musical numbers and special effects.
Producers should get down to Camberley to see how effective budgeting can produce a spectacular show. A small theatre does not need to mean a small production and Camberley have engaged industry leading illusionists The Twins in this year's productions to create a wonderful flying effect. Rather than have the usual carpet ride to Abanazer's lair, Camberley have opted for something far more spectacular: Aladdin really flies, and the climax to this exquisite sequence is Sonny Flood in the title role being propelled out across the audience to gasps of astonishment.
Kate Millest's Bubbles from AbFab inspired Slave of the Ring injects some wonderful comedic moments into what can be a superfluous role and along with Helen Kurup as Princess Jasmine, the two prove their singing prowess. Flood too has a good singing voice, although during musical numbers his character swiftly disappears and he appears rather awkward.
Director Nick Mowat and his team have created yet another impressive show and demonstrate that although The Camberley Theatre may be small, the audience is always treated to a stunning pantomime full of heart.
Playing until 2nd January 2011
Simon interviewed the cast of the Camberley panto prior to its opening
Reviewer: Simon Sladen