Writer and Director: Paul Hendy
Musical Director: Chris Wong
Reviewer: Victoria Bawtree
Evolution Productions is back (oh yes, it is) at Canterbury’s Marlowe Theatre, bringing its trademark sunshine to the southeast for its tenth consecutive season. Audience participation is required from the outset, but don’t worry, there’s always time for a practice and however loud/sympathetic/enthusiastic you are first time-round, you can guarantee to be quickly cajoled into doing it ‘once more, with feeling’.
Ben Roddy is back as ‘the bloke in the dress’ (or Widow Twankey in his current guise) with his usual roomful of costume changes: the bright pink apron complete with ‘Manish’ logo was particularly inspired. Roddy has the art of adlibbing and involving the audience finely tuned and this evening’s put-upon soul, chosen by live video feed no less, was a fantastic sport. Phil Gallagher must have loved his stint at Canterbury last season as he is back for more, this year playing Wishee Washee. Gallagher is totally at ease on stage and also brilliant this evening with two slightly awe-struck children brought on to sing along in ‘Old Macdonald’. Together with another regular, Lloyd Hollett as PC Pongo, this trio keeps the pace barreling along, leaving behind them a trail of seemingly never-ending one-liners. This is a team that works.
Scott Maslen is an enjoyable pantomime villain using his clipped English accent and evil laugh to his full advantage. The plot of Abanazar wanting the magic lamp so that he can wish to be the best ballroom dancer in the world, following Maslen’s appearance in the 2010 season of Strictly Come Dancing, seems a little old hat, but there is at least a spot of Strictly choreography towards the end.
The typical whirlwind romance between Aladdin and Jasmin – complete with lots of earnest hand holding – is nicely played out by David Albury and Rosa O’Reilly. They both have winning smiles and strong vocals, although they aren’t as relaxed as the familiar faces of the principal cast. It is Sabrina Aloueche as the Spirit of the Ring who carries the vocals in many of the pop songs used throughout the show, and she does so with power and style. Bentley Kalu plays an enjoyable cameo as ‘Mr G’, or the Genie of the Lamp, quickly getting the audience to warm to his bare chested antics.
Regular visitors to this pantomime come to expect certain things: lavish sets (Helga Wood’s design); slick musical numbers; precision sound effects; gloriously over-the-top costumes (including some to rival the three giants last year) and, of course, those ‘spurious comedy sketches’ that return year after year. Twenty years on and Musical Director, Chris Wong, is still playing ‘Ghostbusters’ to accompany the legendary Marlowe Theatre ghost-gag bench. Just as it was being set up, a young boy in earshot piped up: ‘ooh, I love this bit’. Judging by the reaction of this evening’s audience, Mr Wong could easily find himself playing it for the next twenty as well….
Runs until 11 January 2015| Photo:Paul Clapp