For the first time in more than ten years, I spent Saturday night at the pantomime…and I think I had forgotten what to expect from this slightly embarrassing landmark of English culture. Given that it is still fairly early in Panto-season , I had assumed the audience would be sparse and mostly consisting of the reluctant local press writers who’d drawn the short straw (this was not the case at Impact – I fought tooth and nail for those tickets…). The theatre however was packed with a very vocal audience of all ages – something that the quick-witted cast drew on in their (frequent) ad-libbing.
One of the most immediately striking elements of this production is Tim Meacock’s beautiful design. Aided by a substantial budget no doubt, Aladdin is a visual feast of stunning costumes and really decadent scenery. Every aspect of the production embraces what it unashamedly is and pulls off a slick and confident evening of glittering spectacle, cringingly contrived humour and every expected panto device dutifully yet creatively present. The cast are tight and energetic, with particular recognition of Nathan Dowling (Wishee Washee) and John Elkington (Abanaza), who alongside Kenneth Alan Taylor (Widow Twankey) often carry the pace and comedy of the production between them. The dancers are fantastic, the traditional cheesy pantomime songs are updated with the unmistakable High School Musical influence, and the title role is played, true to convention, by an energetic thigh-slapping blonde in fishnets (my date’s critical summary: ‘Aladdin’s got great legs’).
I think that Saturday night was probably untypical of the whole run in that it was the opening of Taylor’s 25th Pantomime at the Playhouse – as writer, director, and in his signature role of Dame. Taylor deserves due credit for his creativity and talent in masterminding the show, as well as his undeniable stage skills and enthusiasm for engaging the crowd. There was amongst the audience an obvious fondness for Taylor, (which I sadly did not get, being the ignorant student from the South) as well as anticipation for both classically manufactured jokes and unscripted hilarity – and on neither count were we disappointed. However after the 17th time we were commanded to ‘do the Time Warp, again’, the show ran on to a total of three hours and three acts – dare I say it, Taylor’s incessant unscripted reappearances onstage were occasionally tiresome. One thing to be said for the many, many intervals is that with a Gin and Tonic downed in each one, my date and I loosened our vocal chords sufficiently to really do justice to those all-important ‘He’s behind you’s!’.
Aladdin is a colourful and fantastically brash production, and with an audience as enthusiastic as that of Saturday night, it cannot fail to be highly enjoyable. So go to the pantomime this Christmas – leave your shame at home and revisit your childhood – embrace the glitter, the embarrassing jokes, and the occasional thespian ego – because it’s just really good fun.
Aladdin is showing at Nottingham Playhouse until January 24th 2009.