Writer: Daniel O’Brien
Director: Tim Welton
Musical Director: Phil Gostelow
Reviewer: Glen Pearce
The Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds pantomime is always a traditional affair, matching its historical splendour. There’s no C-list soap stars here and no gimmickry, just all the elements of a classic pantomime that have thrilled generations of theatre goers.
All’s not well in Peking. The late Emperor has decreed that his daughter should only marry a worthy prince, scuppering the chance of low-brow Aladdin to ever find true love. The son of a lowly washer woman, Aladdin is certainly punching above his weight, but it’s a case of love at first sight for the young pair.
Of course, young love can never run smooth so throw in the traditional panto villain and we’re all set for a roller coaster (or should that be magic carpet) ride.
Daniel O’Brien’s script keeps all the traditional elements in place but includes enough modern references to keep the street-savvy younger audience entertained. Shifting between the streets and palaces of Peking to the deserts of Egypt, Aladdin is a feast for both ear and eye. Tim Welton’s deft direction keeps the action flowing, with clever use of projection to add a magical feel to the piece. Technology also comes to the fore in a beautifully filmed Silent Movie interlude that see’s our characters flee the theatre and take to the streets on Bury St Edmunds, much to the bemusement of puzzled onlookers.
There’s strong performances throughout the company – David Chittenden is suitably menacing as a dark and brooding Abanazar, Chris Coxon plays Wishee Washee as the ultimate cheery children’s TV host while Hannah Summers provides regal gravitas in the dual rôles of Empress and the Genie of the Lamp.
Patrick Marlowe should really be receiving double wages for his dual rôles as Good/Evil sidekicks Hanky and Panky. A stream of quick changes, and vanishing tricks see’s Marlowe constantly on the go – even managing an Act two fight with himself.
There’s fine vocal performances from Roxanne Palmer and Jessica Spalis as Jasmine and Aladdin, with Spalis thrilling the audience with her spectacular aerial acrobatic skills on silks as she enters the cave of the lamp.
Like many a pantomime, though, the true star of the show here is the outrageous Dame, played to perfection by James Nickerson. Rarely off stage Nickerson instantly has the audience eating out of the palm of his hand, ready with a quick ad-lib for every situation. It’s a flirtatious style that instantly warms but also guides the audience through the absurdity of the pantomime tradition. Quick witted comments add to the fun – including a running joke with a pregnant member of the audience on the front row.
Nickerson’s comic wallpapering routine with Coxon may be straight out of the variety history books but it’s pure joy to see this slapstick masterclass introduced to a new generation.
Times may be tough for the Theatre Royal but the venue’s passion for live theatre is clearly demonstrated. It may lack the big names of some of its festive cousins but it certainly makes up for that on seasonal fun. This Aladdin will delight audiences of all ages and can’t help but warm the soul on a chilly winter’s night.
Runs until January 12, 2014