Writer: Alan McHugh
Director and Choreographer: Johnny Bates
Reviewer: Kris Hallett
In January, news rocked panto-land that QDOS had won the war over its competitor and First Family Entertainment (FFE) was no more. This year, they return to Bristol Hippodrome victorious. In doing so, they have produced the best pantomime Bristol has seen in years. It may have been blowing a storm of biblical proportions outside but inside the Hippodrome it was as red hot as the dusty streets Aladdin grows up in. This is panto as rock concert; blinding lights, heavily amped sound, huge special effects. If most children’s first experience of theatre is at Christmas, then this is the kind that will enrapture them. It’s a terrific night of entertainment, worlds away from the flat FFE effort of recent years.
This going big and going better is obvious from the moment an animatronic beast from iconic lore rocks up in the first seconds. How it fits into the tale of Aladdin is unclear but it’s certainly one way to open the show with a bang. So are the screams from the first few rows from those that sounded like they wanted one, as 90’s pin-up Marti Pellow takes to the stage as the evil Abanazar, debonairly crooning a song sending up his rock star personality. Pellow looks the part, acts adequately and his voice is smooth if not exactly pushed in his songs, composed alongside his long-term songwriting partner Grant Mitchell. He may get a big ovation come the bows but the star of this night is Joe Pasquale, a panto master putting years of experience in the genre to ultimate effect here.
From the moment he comes from behind an Oriental fan claiming we’ve mistaken him for George Clooney, Pasquale is the centre of gravity of this production. He is tireless, the focal point of every bit of business, whether skating across the stage on a skateboard, or being dragged up to the sky by the front curtain upside down. His patter is razor sharp by now, even the ab-libs feel polished to shining gold. The belly laughs he induces from the audience passes onto the actors gently and then not so gently corpsing; when Pasquale is on song, no one is safe.
Being a big commercial panto you know going in exactly what you’re getting; the script is formulaic. There is the usual dig at a local rival (Swindon), a couple of generic love songs, a Brizzle genie and love inevitably wins out. There is nothing designed to rock the boat here. But the comic set pieces are terrific. The patter song If I Were Not upon the Stage may be an oldie but it’s a goodie and played with delirious energy here. So too the tongue twister routine at the laundry. It’s all stuff heard many times before but it gains in comic potency by being as familiar as a cosy Christmas jumper, one amped up for maximum effect.
Johnny Bates production moves at a clap, wrapping it all up, bow and all in just over two hours and ensuring nothing overstays its welcome. If David Robbins Widow Twankey feels overshadowed by Pasquale, he still gets a number of bling costumes to parade, a favourite being the mini dress that reveals a surprisingly good set of pins. A foxy Dame, whatever next. Alexis Gerrard and Hayley Tamadoon are more robust as the romantic leads than is usual while Rebecca Bernice-Amissah with her powerful soulful voice as the Empress of China and Kimberley Blake’s glamorous Slave Of The Ring round up the principals with aplomb.
The region has been blessed with Christmas shows this year, but Aladdin is right up there in the quality stakes. QDOS have returned and produced a show worth shouting from the rooftops about.
Runs until the 7 January 2018 | Image: Contributed