Writer: Michael Harrison and Alan McHugh
Director: Michael Harrison
Reviewer: James Garrington
It’s panto time in Birmingham and flying into the Hippodrome this year we have Aladdin. Everyone knows the story of course – the young man’s journey from rags to riches, evil being defeated and everyone living happily ever after. Popular though that story is, in many ways it plays second fiddle in this sort of event, which is all about star casting, colour and spectacle.
A star cast has certainly been assembled for this panto. Kicking off, we have Marti Pellow in his first panto outing, as Abanazar. The rôle requires a brooding, cunning stage presence and Pellow has it just right, stalking around the stage uttering his threats, but staying safely on the side of not scaring the kids. Opposite Pellow is a boyish-looking Lee Mead as Aladdin. Mead came to the nation’s attention when he won a TV casting programme, and the song which made him popular at the time Any Dream Will Do is adroitly shoehorned into the show as a running gag. Mead admirably makes the most of what is often a somewhat secondary rôle against the larger-than-life characters around him.
Then we have Julian Clary providing great value as Slave of the Ring. Everything you expect from Clary is here – innuendo, condescension, comic asides and sarcastic put-downs – and he does it all so beautifully, bringing great amusement to the adults in the audience without being offensive, taking us perilously close to the line you can get away with in a family show without quite crossing it.
Yet the real star of the show is Matt Slack, back for his third consecutive Hippodrome panto as Wishee Washee. He is a firm favourite with Birmingham audiences and seems born to the rôle. Slapstick, funny walks, comedy voices and facial expressions, he has them all. He also has a wonderful manner with the children, who are invitedon to the stage for the usual song, a tongue-twisting delight guaranteed to appeal to the children. He also takes part in a – slightly overlong – comedy acrobatic routine with The Acromaniacsand throws himself into it all with gusto.
Andrew Ryan is a typical Dame in a series of outrageous costumes, trying valiantly to compete with Clary in both costume and comedy departments but inevitably falling a little short on both counts – such is the depth of talent on the stage, for Ryan himself is no mean performer. Emily Shaw sings well as the Princess, and Landi Oshinowo is in great voice as the short-tempered Empress.
Spectacle is what is at the heart of the production and it is provided in no small measure with superb sets (Ian Westbrook) and a veritable Aladdin’s cave of lavish costumes (Mike Coltman), all brought to life by Ben Cracknell’s clever lighting. Add in the special effects – the flying carpet soaring out over the auditorium courtesy of specialists The Twins FX, and a later 3D flying carpet (Whizzbang3D Productions) ride through ancient Egypt and you get something special indeed.
Once the big 3D effect is over the show peters out somewhat, as often seems to happen, ending on more of a fizzle than a bang. It cries out for a big closing number and although we have the traditional wedding scene to finish there’s nothing to send the audience out singing and clapping along. In fact, there is really not much in the way of song and dance at any point, which is a shame considering the quality of the vocalists, all of whom are in good voice on the rare occasions we get to hear them.
Aladdin is lavish, colourful and spectacular. Will the kids love it? Oh yes, they will!
Runs until 31 January 2016 | ImageKeith Pattison