Writer: Jonathan Kiley and Alan McHugh
Director: David Fleeshman
Reviewer: John Roberts
After the stunning success of last year’s pantomime, Cinderella, the Lyceum Theatre was always going to struggle to find a production to match or even better its brilliant blend of storytelling and sensational cast. Being truly honest, this year’s offering of Aladdin, while very enjoyable, lacks the punch and energy found on the stage last year and this year’s “celebrity” line-up looking like a seaside variety show from Blackpool circa 1988 – Canon and Ball and Dooby Duck anyone?
As you would expect, the pantomime is filled with a mix of current chart toppers and slightly older tracks, ticking the something for everyone box. It’s perhaps director David Fleeshman’s desire to please everybody that results in the production feeling like a jack of all trades and master of none – pleasant enough but lacks the serious “wow” factor.
Having seen two pantomimes back to back where the lead has been cast from the excruciatingly painful E4 series Stage School (D&B Academy of Performing Arts), it might be strongly suggested to the producers that they stop fishing in this dingy pool. Those selected are just not experienced enough to carry a show and lack the charisma needed to engage over 1000 audience members. That said, Dan Walter’s Aladdin looks the part of a dashing prince with his boyband looks (although perhaps a quick spray tan may make him look more the part), he can hold a tune and dance brilliantly but falls down in the acting department. Likewise, new graduate Lauren Mobley as Scheherazade needs to inject more passion and energy into her portrayal – at the moment coming on stage, looking pretty and remembering your lines just isn’t enough. Thankfully the final member of the cast from the younger generation fairs better – Danielle Chupak, as Princess Jasmine, is every bit the fairytale princess.
CBeebie’s favourite Sid Sloane takes on the role of Wishee Washee but is left with little to do other than be a face for the children, due to the usual comedy routines being taken by Canon and Ball. Mark Turnbull as the Evil Abanazar certainly looks the part in his slicked back hair and long leather jacket but lacks the balance of being able to interact with the audience; he can certainly belt out a rock number, though. Malcolm Lord, best-known as George and then Bungle in cult children’s TV series Rainbow dons the dresses and parades as Dame Widow Twankey – his costumes are great, his performance less so. Lord’s jokes seem to misfire regularly and a rather misjudged scene in the laundry feels dirty and wrong – do we really need a pair of homophobic pants? We are in the 21st Century, not 1965.
A crowd pleasing routine from Roger Stevenson Animations and his creation Dooby Duck is a nice replacement from the usual babes routine or UV show and it’s clear to see that the puppeteers are at the top of their game. The show’s saving grace, however, is Canon and Ball, who prove with ease why they are still headlining shows in their 70s (Tommy Canon’s nearly 80), they have a real passion and their jokes and routines cross the generational barrier with ease – this is old-time family-friendly comedy and are the perfect fit for PC Pong of Hong Kong and PC Ping of Peking.
One thing you can’t deny with Qdos pantomimes is how beautiful they look; it’s clear from the opening scene that money has been spent on set and costume – bright colours punctuate the space and glitter dazzles at every corner. Likewise, the pit band, under the musical direction of Philip Shute, sounds rich and full and really packs a punch as does Thomas Spratt’s clever choreography, which is excitingly executed by the ensemble and the children from The X Academy.
Aladdin is enjoyable and the experience and generosity of Canon and Ball lifts it considerably but a pantomime shouldn’t have to rely on two people in such a way.
Runs until 31 December 2016 | Image: Phil Greig