Aladdin - A Wish Come True

Michael Rose Ltd, Chris Moreno and The Mayflower, Southampton
The Mayflower, Southampton
(2010)

Aladdin - A Wish Come True production photo

If you're looking for a pantomime full of glitz and glamour, then look no further - the Mayflower's Aladdin has it all and can even boast the long awaited return of Miss Lily Savage in the role of Widow Twankey.

Michael Rose, Chris Moreno and the Mayflower have created a sumptuous pantomime that harks back to those of the Palladium era. The scenery is stunning, with each beautiful brushstroke conjuring a highly detailed Chinese paradise; however this Aladdin starts rather differently to the tale we have come to know.

It may sound morose to start a pantomime with a funeral, but this is exactly how the Mayflower's production begins and in doing so weaves a prologue that explains why Twankey ended up in Peking and just how she and Abanazar are related.

The production borrows much from the Disney version of the tale: Abanazar is the Emperor's Vizier, Aladdin rides a magic carpet and Wishee Washee is nowhere to be seen. The Princess' name is Jasmine and, in place of her tiger Rajah, she is accompanied by an adorable baby elephant that goes by the name of Booboo.

However, it is rather disappointing that the Genie of the Lamp should become a large blue puppet resembling Robin William's Genie of the Disney film when the production has been so brave to re-invent the prologue and push the story beyond the expected.

Paul O'Grady has granted his alter-ego, Lily Savage, her long awaited freedom from the convent and, gauging by the audience's reaction, we may be seeing a lot more of her on the pantomime stage in years to come. So often big star names become the pantomime, but this is not the case in Southampton and O'Grady plays his part in the narrative alongside everyone else.

This Twankey, née Savage, is Lily in another light and certain musical numbers ghost her previous appearances in the Royal Variety Show and as Miss Hannigan in Annie. Surprisingly, Savage has mellowed somewhat during her time in the nunnery and there isn't nearly enough of her wicked wit and sarcastic put-downs.

Jon Lee proves his pantomime pedigree as one of the UK's best male Principal Boys. His youthful Aladdin, full of adventurous spirit, sings, dances and acts strongly alongside his equally as talented Princess, played by Marissa Dunlop-Bidwell.

Although lacking in slapstick, the show's silliness is provided by Matthew Rixon and Andy Spiegel as Ping and Pong the Chinese Policemen. Complete with comic walks and patter, the two execute their many front-cloth pieces with glorious old-school music hall style charm and skilfully deliver the 'Who, What, I Don't Know' set piece at rapid speed without hesitation. Their comic interplay is a real lesson in the double-act and it is therefore rather disappointing that the song sheet is reduced to a mere sing-through of 'Happy Birthday'.

Director and choreographer David Morgan has created an incredibly slick show with dance moves and directional drive that would be more than at home on any West End or Broadway stage.

The ensemble of twelve dancers execute every move with great precision, energy and pizzazz to the wondrous tones of the ten strong orchestra under the musical direction of Adrian Kirk. Everything about this production is big.

With the tag-line A Wish Come True, this Aladdin is full of magic and adventure. It is just a shame that pantomime, being seasonal as it is, means that the Mayflower's production can't transfer to the West End, which is where it truly belongs.

Playing until 8th January 2011

Reviewer: Simon Sladen