You will not be disappointed by this timeless classic of a panto…oh no you won’t! Christopher Biggins’ ebullient performance as Widow Twankey carries the production, with the aid of her increasingly inexplicable and outrageous outfits. All the ‘pantomime-musts’ were ticked, and it went beyond anything I remember from childhood, with the advancements in animatronics leaving but one word to describe the display as a whole: spectacle.
The traditional narrative of Aladdin is adhered to, following the penniless Aladdin (Simon Webbe) in his quest to become rich and marry his true love, Princess Jasmine (Emilie Du Leslay). James Barron does an outstanding job of portraying the evil Abanazar (hissssss), who seduces Aladdin into finding a magical lamp which contains a wish-granting genie. With the help of the enormous, hovering genie, Aladdin becomes a Prince and despite intervention from evil forces eventually marries his Princess.
Incorporated into this tale are comic interludes by Widow Twanky such as the time-honoured tradition of flattening Aladdin in the mangle and a sing-along to round up the show. Twankey is of course often joined by Wishee Washee, played flawlessly by Ben Nickless. Nickless, who has an uncanny knack for impressions, certainly gave the audience the most laughs, not only entertaining the children but keeping the adults in stitches for the duration of the evening. Also to involve the entire audience, both current and classic songs were used throughout. Kimberly Blake’s voice as the enchanting Scheherazade was brilliant, if you closed your eyes during the adapted One Way or Another, Debbie Harry could have been in the theatre. All of the numbers brought onto the stage the superb dance ensemble, who (with a little help from some spectacularly ornate costumes) often stole all attention from the leads.
Undoubtedly the most impressive and unexpected element of the performance were the visual special effects, which the programme attributes to a very lovely looking pair of twins and their company, The Twins FX. Within the first few minutes a gigantic (and pretty frightening) serpent slithers out of its coil and over the stalls. The genie is of a similar calibre, although I was slightly disappointed this part wasn’t portrayed by an actor (however, Scheherazade’s role as the magical ‘slave of the ring’ who helps Aladdin, makes up for this lack of a tangible hero). The flying carpet is the pinnacle of the special effects, where Aladdin flies right off the stage and over the heads of the unsuspecting audience. The extravagant staging throughout sets this pantomime apart from anything I have seen before.
On a slightly negative note, more suspense could have been made of the entrance into the cave, which is an integral part of the traditional story. Also, there was the standard gimmick of Widow Twankey asking the audience to shout if anyone tries to touch her prized possession, in this case a basket of prawn balls: “don’t touch the prawn balls! Leave the prawn balls alone!” However, the poor lonely basket of prawn balls was completely ignored with no further mention in the second half of the performance. Perhaps, the aforementioned advancements in animatronics and special effects – which do wonders in exciting all ages – means it is time for this enduring ploy to go.
On the whole, Aladdin is a fantastic show. Do not fall into the trap of thinking that pantomimes are just for children – this is absolutely not the case! I was reminded tonight of the joy they can bring and how entertaining they can be in every aspect – at any age! Not one cast member lets down the strong performances of Biggins and Nickless (or the efforts of The Twins FX); what they may lack in comedic value they make up for in pure talent. You must go and see it…oh yes you must!
Aladdin is running at Theatre Royal until 10th January 2016, for more information see here
Images sourced via Theatre Royal Nottingham