Writer: Alan McHugh
Director: Thom Sutherland
Reviewer: Dan English
With a dramatic start, Dartford’s pantomime offering this year, Aladdin, tries to put punters in the festive mood with this visually stunning production.
The Orchard Theatre’s seasonal selection, directed by Thom Sutherland, sees Aladdin (Alexis Gerred) attempt to escape the clutches of his nemesis Abanazar (Marti Pellow), all while trying to charm Princess Jasmine (Stephanie Elstob), against a terrific backdrop which includes some wonderful spectacles and a fun 3D flight as this production of Aladdin reverts the story back to its original Peking setting. In terms of the visual theatrics on stage, the theatre has spared no expense there this year.
Marti Pellow’s Abanazar shifts from being incredibly villainous to become more of a mild tease although there are numerous chances for Pellow to showcase a strong vocal range, particularly during his self-penned numbers. There is an ease with which Pellow does take to the stage, however, yet the direction, and Alan McHugh’s script, strikes an odd balance between comedy and terror, and it is Pellow’s Abanazar’s character who suffers the most.
As Wishee Washee, Ricky K does well to, for the majority of the performance he holds the audience in his palms. The jokes are slightly tired, but Ricky K’s enthusiasm and determination to sell them as well as he can rescues the gags. In one particular routine, where Wishee Washee is whacked with bats, truncheons and frying pans, Ricky K’s timing is effective and helps to enforce one of the play’s stronger comedic moments. In addition, David Robbins’ Widow Twankey, although slightly tame in delivery, is still as exaggerated and exuberant as one expects from a pantomime dame. Robbins creates all his own costumes and wigs, and it is clear that this role is delivered with heart, with Robbins, like Ricky K, doing well to hold the audience’s attention during prolonged periods.
Aladdin, Alexis Gerred, is afforded greater stage time than perhaps expected for a panto’s titular role, yet Princess Jasmine, Stephanie Elstob, has a largely underdeveloped role in the performance, Indeed, the love story, although a bit-part in pantomimes more generally, is developed across a few lines which makes it hard to genuinely believe the affection between the two characters. That said, the energy brought to both roles in clear, with Gerred’s Aladdin particularly tireless.
A long-time stalwart of the Orchard’s pantomimes has been the inclusion of a 3D film to immerse audiences into the panto’s world. This year’s throws patrons from the streets of Peking to the dunes of Egypt, with plenty of jumps for the younger spectators. In addition, the panto is full of spectacular set designs and large props, including a huge snake, an appearance from the Genie and even a mammoth King Kong, although it’s unclear as to why. The magic carpet scene is also impressive, and as Aladdin flies over the stalls, one does realise the sheer scale of the spectacle this piece has to offer.
Aladdin is odd, as it struggles to find a balance between terrifying an audience or being an all-out comedy, and not really delivering on either of these. That said, the enthusiasm and determination of the stellar cast to force home the gags and routines, as well as the jaw-dropping visual effects, does help to provide a feel-good factor as the curtain falls on another year’s panto.
Runs until Sunday 30 December 2018 | Image: Luke Varley