Paul Hammond Productions
Pavilion Theatre, Worthing
It has only been three years since Paul Hammond Productions last produced Aladdin at the Pavilion Theatre, Worthing, but this season's show is a vast improvement on 2007's offering.
Whereas previously the magic lamp was a badly sprayed watering can and the set non-existent, this year's pantomime has a proper gold lamp and a set that fills the stage. Over the last few years Hammond's production values have significantly increased and lessons have clearly been learnt, as this year there is no evidence of the usual bugbear of over-amplification.
2010's Aladdin boasts many more costume changes than the 2007 production; however they are rather conflicting in style and do not help to establish the pantomime's setting. Although set in a fictional Arabia, dancers appear in saris, kimonos and Chinese and Moroccan dress. The Sultan is portrayed as a lustful old man and his harem referred to on numerous occasions. Orientalism is rife throughout the show and such costume choices and characterisation only help to further emphasise the notion of the Oriental Other.
In a Press Release for the production, Paul Hammond is quoted as saying that in preparation for this year's pantomime he consulted "production records from 1865 and will recreate some of those breathtaking original scenes to make sure this is our most unusual and extravagant pantomime yet." Producers should be wary of such promises as this reviewer did not notice any of E. L. Blanchard's "breathtaking" scenes from the 1865 Covent Garden production and it seems that a touch of false advertising has taken place.
There is a U.V sequence and the obligatory 'It's Behind You', alongside the 'Echo Gag', which seems misplaced, appearing, as it does, in Act Two when the Twankeys are rich from Aladdin's trip to the cave. Perhaps they are just rather greedy and always on the look out to make a quick buck?
With soapstars from EastEnders and The Bill taking up the roles of Aladdin (Sam Attwater) and Abanazar (Mark Wingett), the role of Wishee Washee goes to Alex Winters of CBeebies, and, harking back to casting practices of the 1990s, there's even a Gladiator in the form of Mark 'Rhino' Smith as the Keeper of the Rhinestone Ring.
Hammond takes some liberties with the usual narrative and in this production it is the Genie of the Ring, here called the Keeper, who performs virtually all of the magic and grants Aladdin his wishes. This is mainly due to the Genie of the Lamp being a skin part, resulting in the most energetic and expressive role in the pantomime becoming the most static due to the fixed facial expression on the Genie of the Lamp's foam head.
Such a version creates problems for the narrative, as the Genie of the Lamp and his powers become undermined by the Keeper of the Ring. Why should Abanazar desire the lamp if the Keeper of the Ring can answer his every wish? The plot's conclusion is also problematic as Wishee Washee commands the Keeper of the Ring to turn Abanazar good, when the ring is on Aladdin's finger and therefore the Genie should, in theory, only answer to Aladdin's call. As Abanazar still has the lamp at this point, then why doesn't he retaliate with the more powerful Genie of the Lamp? And why is it that the Keeper of the Ring, rather than the Genie of the Lamp, is granted his freedom? This suggests that Aladdin is rather greedy and wants to keep the Genie of the Lamp close at hand so that he can always have whatever he wants.
For the second year running, live music returns to the theatre; however it is obvious that most, if not all, musical numbers make full use of a click track. Although the numbers are sung with great energy, the song choice, much like the costume selection, is questionable. Act One ends with a Lion King medley, including 'Hakuna Matata', 'Can You Feel The Love Tonight?', 'Circle Of Life' and 'Be Prepared' and is also home to a Saturday Night Fever megamix.
Aladdin is yet another step up in production values for Paul Hammond Productions and the company is slowly learning from its mistakes. However, it still has a long way to go in creating a fully coherent pantomime. When Inspector Ping Pong's outfit is clearly Russian and when anticipated tomfoolery with a washing machine and sink never materialises during the laundry scene, one has to question whether as much thought has gone into the production as is claimed.
Playing until 2nd January 2011
Reviewer: Simon Sladen