Writer: Daniel O’Brien
Co-Directors: Louise Denison, Chris Hannon
Musical Director: Jim Lunt
Designer: Mark Walters
Reviewer: Ron Simpson
Pantomimes are all about tradition, not only the stories and the time-honoured routines, but also the traditions that are created within each theatre. This year’s Aladdin is a typical Wakefield pantomime, with all the elements securely in place, even if – early in the run – comic momentum is sometimes lacking. The precision is there, but not always the relaxation that follows with growing familiarity and confidence.
Partly the continuing success of Wakefield pantomimes depends on a team of regulars: writer Daniel O’Brien (aka Colin Blumenau), choreographer Louise Denison, musical director Jim Lunt, lighting designer Di Clough and sets/costume designer Mark Walters. The only “regular” among the cast members is Chris Hannon, returning for the eighth time as Wakefield’s panto dame and this time taking on directing duties, together with Louise Denison.
As usual at Wakefield, there is a strong story-line. Indeed, at the beginning, there’s almost too much to absorb as Tommy Twankey of Wakefield (broadly speaking, t’ villain of t’ piece) spins a far-fetched yarn about his brother’s family in Peking and transforms himself into Abanazar, t’ greatest magician in t’ world. Immediately a lively ensemble introduces a bewildering succession of exotic characters and we have to wait for the arrival of Widow Twankey to settle down and get our bearings.
Chris Hannon is, as ever, excellent, simultaneously flamboyant and self-deprecating, a master of the sub-text that says, “I’m just a silly chap in a daft frock digging up ancient jokes, but I know what comes next, so stand by to get drenched or severely embarrassed.” His relationship with his comic sidekick, the energetic Danielle Bird as Wishee Washee, is beginning to take shape, but will no doubt be more natural as the run progresses.
Chris Chilton, a veteran of several Harrogate pantomimes, knows his way around the over-the-top eye-rolling of Abanazar, too menacing for words, yet not scary enough to frighten a six-year-old. Beth Tuckey’s Empress combines the hair-style of Amanda Barrie as Cleopatra with the voice of Fenella Fielding and Paul Hutton pulls off an entertaining double as police chief Hanky Panky (simultaneously the Empress’ enforcer and the hapless crony of Wishee Washee and Twankey) and the Djinn. Dean Bray (Aladdin) and Melissa Rose (Princess Jasmine) are an engaging (and engaged) pair but could do with a few more good songs.
As always the young chorus is very well drilled, but also gives the impression of having a great time, with nicely timed bits of comic business. Jim Lunt’s gallant trio adds plenty of snap, crackle and pop with well-timed effects to go with the more tuneful stuff. The set and costumes are colourful and imaginative; the routines show up in the right places, done as they should be done, if just a trifle inhibited at this early stage; the adult jokes take a little bit of working out which keeps the grown-ups active and the little ones uncomprehending (as they should be).
There are no surprises, except for pantomime first-timers, but Aladdin is slick, smart and unpretentious entertainment, just as we thought it would be.
Runs until 7 January 2018 | Image: Contributed