Writer and Director: James Shone
Musical Director: Sam Coates
Reviewer: Janet Jepson
“You might as well laugh cos the jokes don’t get any funnier” and no, they probably don’t, but that doesn’t seem to stop everyone rolling around in their seats at a traditional pantomime. The Civic Theatre in Rotherham has all the ingredients for a great family night out with its offering of Aladdin from Shone Productions Ltd.
The stage is decked out beautifully, with painted backcloths worthy of a true artist – the detail in the Chinese village scene is amazing, and the glittering Chinese dragons that tower above the action are magnificent. And where else can you get your smalls laundered for 1yen as advertised on Widow Twankey’s laundry set? There’s a patina of extensive glitter over it all, and plenty of atmospheric smoke to excite the kids. The cave looks very mysterious too, but maybe not quite eerie enough – and were all the steps up and down into it totally necessary? Aladdin seemed very prone to tripping up them, and it didn’t always seem to be entirely part of the script!
The costumes too are truly lavish, with loads of satin and sequins all round. However special mention must be made of Widow Twankey’s massive array of varying headgear. It is truly amazing how this person manages to walk, let alone dance, with a complete washing line erected in a large laundry basket atop his head, or with an oversized Chinese takeaway (with proper foil dishes) balanced on his bonce – all while tottering on soaring platform shoes. The dancers have several changes of beautiful outfits too, and it is refreshing to see a troupe of child dancers who all ‘match’ – their heights are symmetrical on the stage, and they all wear identical short black wigs.
Ricky K of Britain’s Got Talent fame is brilliant in the lead rôle of Aladdin. It is usual in pantomime for the leading boy to be played by a leggy girl in tunic and tights, but this production works well with Ricky pulling off a combined rôle of Aladdin and village fool. He comes over as an energetic hybrid of a Chuckle Brother, Billy Pearce and Norman Wisdom all rolled into one, who builds up a really good rapport with the audience. However the onstage chemistry between the characters does seem to be lacking, and it is hoped that this develops as the run progresses. Mark Hudson in the rôle of Widow Twankey is cheeky and manhunting, but lacks over-the-top facial expression and true slapstick skills, and none of the other cast members seem quite animated enough. Mark Labbett still seems fixed in his Chaser persona, and the character of Abanazar requires more than merely his intimidating 6ft 7in height to be really scary. Likewise the Genie of the Lamp and the Slave of the Ring (aka Liam Tankard and Leah Murphy) exuded very little of the magic that the characters warranted. It is however early days for this run of Aladdin, and the cast will maybe up their act to match the wonderful set and costumes after a few more performances.
These few flaws aside, the darkened theatre, lit only by flashing wands and swords purchased by harassed parents hoping to entertain their lively offspring for a couple of hours, has a special kind of Christmas magic. The essence of pantomime is its ability to entertain all the family and this production of Aladdin certainly doesn’t disappoint there. Many of the jokes work on two levels, as they should, so that the grown-ups appreciate a smutty aside or two, and of course there are the audience ‘insults’ that often go down well. “Let her put her teeth back in” is directed to the lady in the middle of the third row, much to her and her grandson’s delight. Yes, this is the start of Christmas that takes even the oldest grandparent back to being a kid, and that’s why everyone needs to see a pantomime or three to warm up this chilly season – you’ll emerge glowing!
Runs until: Sunday 11th January 2015