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REVIEW: Super family panto with no strings attached (except to Aladdin’s magic carpet!)

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Looking for a pantomime with all the classic ingredients of slapstick fun, appalling jokes, audience participation and a baddie you’ll love to hate? Then your wish can come true this year, writes Steve Sims.

It was a tall order to match the excellence of last year’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at The Alban Arena in St Albans. But Evolution Productions have done just that with their version of Aladdin.

Back by popular demand after demonstrating a real chemistry in that 2011 show, are Phil Gallagher (aka to the kids as CBeebies’ Mister Maker) and Bob Golding, who play Aladdin and Pc Pongo respectively.

Add to the mix, lovable ex-EastEnders’ softie Shaun “don’t call me Barry” Williamson, who revelled in his role as the evil Ababazar and the stage was set for what turned out to be a super show on Sunday evening.

From the moment Aladdin warns “here comes the police” and Pc Pongo enters the stage with his knees crushed up to his chin on a child’s mini 9V police vehicle straight out of ToysRus, you know this is going to get very, very silly.

And none more so in the marshmallow and doughnut magic trick sketch featuring Aladdin’s mum, the Widow Twankey (Sam Rabone). Twankey may believe she has mystic powers in this scene, but the real magic is how Pongo and Aladdin make the grub vanish time after time by stuffing it their mouths – without spitting it all out as they see the audience around them in hysterics.

The entrance of the Emperor of China (Stuart Nurse) spells trouble for pauper Aladdin who has dared to look at his daughter, Princess Jasmine played by Jemma Carlisle.

The penalty? “Off with his head,” declares the Emperor. And after a “1..2..3” count there’s a very long pause and the executioner’s axe hangs mid-swing until in sprints an out-of-breath Widow Twankey to shout “STOP!”

Her claim of being distracted back stage and therefore being late delivering the line (to almost fatal consequences) was a great gag and left the audience pondering if it was part of the script or unintentionally hilarious.

The gags come thick and fast in this show and most hit the mark with young and old alike, although the Emperor’s line about keeping his armies up his sleevies did make me cringe.

Fortunately the Emperor soon redeemed himself after the District of Peking called Won Long Poo was mentioned... and he piped up “What a dump!”

Evil Ababazar was a great bumbling panto villain and throughout the show was at pains to avoid his Walford typecasting, pleading “I’m no longer that buffoon from a well known soap opera.”

Now, if I had a pound everytime the “don’t call me Barry” gag was used I’d nearly be as rich as Aladdin when he discovered the cave full of treasures.

Even my four-year-old son, who wouldn’t have had a clue about what EastEnders was, had picked up on the gag and was shouting out “Barry!” every time Shaun appeared on stage by the midway part of the story.

When one of the cast mumbled about Ababazar “I’m not sure about him” it provoked the retort “for another tenner we could have had Les Dennis”. Personally, I’m glad they didn’t splash out the extra!

Panto wouldn’t be panto without a few digs at neighbouring towns, Louie Spence at MK’s panto, Dunstable, Harpenden all got a pounding and Aladdin was warned after being trapped inside the cave: “You’ll be locked up until Luton Town win the cup.” Oh dear!

Thankfully, a spot of lamp rubbing freed Mr G, a 70s-style disco dancing genie, who saved our hero who used up a wish to escape his predicament. In fact, Nathaniel Morrison’s genie role was pure over-the-top genius.

Songs play a big part in panto and the many numbers were sung with great gusto –hat’s off to Kelly Chinery (who played the Spirit of the Ring... from Essex!) for her rendition of Freedom in particular.

Festive song favourite The 12 Days of Christmas was another comedy highlight thanks to the genie who replaced five gold rings with five custard pies – with water pistols (watch out audience) and rubber chickens added for good measure.

Panto is even more fun when the unexpected happens, and Aladdin slipping over some custard pie mix and ending up flat on his back (unintentionally, I was informed by Phil Gallagher after the show) was an added bonus!

And then, for the kids, there was the awe-inspiring Magic Carpet ride which saw gasps of amazement from some sections of the audience as Aladdin flew around the stage... Although two seconds in, both my kids yelled out “he’s on strings”!

There are however, no strings attached if you decide to see Aladdin in St Albans. You simply can’t go wrong.

Aladdin runs until January 6. Call 01727 844488 or see www.alban-arena.co.uk to book.

 

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