Nottingham Playhouse, Friday 30th December, 2016.
I took my nephew along to Nottingham Playhouse’s ‘Aladdin’ as his first trip to a panto, and it did not disappoint. The staples of all great, traditional pantos were there in abundance; lavish, sparkly costumes; cartoonish sets; farcical plot lines and plenty of cheesy laughs derived from tongue twisters and well-placed modern references. The dab, the apple-pen man, Honey G and the mannequin challenge all received their moment of 2016 commemoration while age-old gags were dusted off and paraded around with every ounce of their once original glee. Under Kenneth Alan Taylor’s direction (and his writing), the cast delivered a great festive family show.
The set designs (by designer Tim Meacock) were surprisingly vast and although the very 2D, token back-drops were used, they were 3D is colour and glitter; the sets and costumes both boasted a clear sense of high production value. The costumes were vibrant and varied, with some of the ‘statement’ or key costumes brilliantly realised with a definite sense of quality (I do not count all costumes in this- the Empress’ garb in particular giving the reverse effect, surely by design for comic effect- his skinny male ankles lending themselves nicely to the overall effect).
Widow Twankey, played by John Elkington was, by all accounts, the star of this show; every bit the seasoned performer with comic timing and northern charisma which put me in mind of the wonderful Peter Kay. The audience interaction with Widow Twankey was by far the most winning aspect of the aimed-at-the-grown-ups moments and he handled the audience with charming ease, having them in stitches as he toyed with the band. Also worth note is Elkington’s sporting of each and every one of his beautifully and comically crafted, outlandish costumes with all the self-assurance of Zsa Zsa Gabor – highly entertaining!
Kevin McGowan played the villain Abanazar with just the right amount of mild threat and balanced that expertly with moments of comedy, just about managing to slot in a little half-convincing contrition in the second act to acquire the mercy of a few little ones. New onto the panto scene was the wonderfully vibrant Nathan Elwick, playing Wishee Washee. He was an instant favourite with the young audience owing to his infinite energy and cheeky Geordie charm. His gags were delivered with a winning smile and great timing – his performance as a whole as colourful as an artist’s palette. Additional winning features include some wonderful comic dancing and a very tuneful set of pipes.
Darren Southworth, playing The Empress of China, kept his sweet, sweet voice under wraps until late in the second act, but his rendition of ‘Friends’ was worth waiting for- even if it was a very short snatch of the tune before it became a brilliant musical sequence. He wore the female garb with comical awkwardness and handled his many tongue-twister lines expertly. Danielle Corlass and Jasmine White, playing Aladdin and Princess Jasmine respectively, also gifted the production with some lovely voices, providing some impressive harmonies in some of the best musical numbers in the show. White provided the princess appeal nicely while Corlass played Aladdin with endearing innocence- perfect for panto!
I was delighted to see Rebecca Little playing WPC Pong and The Slave of the Ring; she received glowing praise in my review of Oddsocks Theatre Company’s hilarious rendition of ‘Macbeth’ earlier this year. In ‘Aladdin’ she was given even more opportunities to shine vocally as she belted and bopped out some of the most entertaining ditties of the production. She also showcased some slick tap-dancing skills amongst a throng of talented young toe-tappers. Irene Myrtle Forrester provided a great partner in crime as WPC Ping (also The Genie of the Lamp) but it must be said that the best laughs came from Little.
There are few things to list as flaws here, the glee punctuating all good pantomimes was kept centre stage throughout and although a few of the musical numbers (musical director: John Morton, Choreographer: Adele Parry) early in the first act felt a little under-whelming, the closing number of Act One and subsequent sequences in Act Two were slick and exuberant, which more than made up for it. The Birthday list, shout-outs and volunteer shenanigans included in the Second Act were somewhat tiresome and over-long but I affectionately appreciate the loyalty to tradition and found myself laughing along as Twankey had a little fun with some adorable volunteers.
I will confess that the costume of Aladdin made me feel like an old grump – Patsy Stone’s line about hemlines in ‘AbFab’ came to mind (look that one up) when first I glimpsed the hemline and ‘The Secretary’-esque tights. That said, the cross-dressing female leads sporting leggy costumes is as much a staple of panto as the spectacularly ridiculous frocks of the Dame, it’s just that this particular hemline was generously high for a kids’ show…said my inner grumpy old lady! My greatest criticism actually falls to the sleepy adult audience; pantomimes require audience interaction, so either join in or endure the awkward moments of deflated atmosphere as the actors work extra hard to maintain their connection with your children!
All in all, this was an action-packed, fun-filled show with plenty to widen the eyes of little ones; the costumes and sets are great highlights and some of the musical numbers are truly dazzling and well worth seeing. The characters are suitably lovable/comic/boo-able and ah-able as designed, and their ability to create a buzz amongst the young audience was evident and beautifully sustained throughout. This show kept my energetic nephew thoroughly engaged for two hours and had him chattering away enthusiastically during the interval- I recommend it heartily!
‘Aladdin’ plays until 21st January, and you can try your luck with last minute tickets here: http://www.nottinghamplayhouse.co.uk/whats-on/family/aladdin/