The festive season gaining on us with such rapidity means one thing in theatre: the pantomime is back! This year, in response to the current Broadway and West End spectacle, The Nottingham Playhouse presents Aladdin as this year’s production.
In Peking, China, a young boy, Aladdin (Danielle Corlass), comically accompanied on stage by the opening bars of Paul Simon’s ‘You can call me Al’, announces his boredom and yearning for adventure. He is tempted into the abyss of a dark cave by the evil Abanazar (Kevin McGowan) under the promise of becoming “the richest man in Peking” (enthusiastically recited by Aladdin’s mother Widow Twankey played by John Elkington) in exchange for a lamp.
Upon discovering the lamp and accidentally rubbing it, Aladdin is met by the genie – a hypochondriac named Gladys. Aladdin wishes for a palace so that he can wed the princess Jasmine (Jasmine White) whom he recently met. Yet alas, the lamp and genie swiftly end up in the hands of Abanazar, who kidnaps Jasmine, flying her to Egypt via magic carpet (much to the dismay of Gladys the genie who complains of travel sickness). With the help of another genie-like figure, Aladdin, along with a comical trio consisting of Wishee Washee (Nathan Elwick), the Empress of China (Darren Southworth) and the fabulous Widow Twankey, follows them to Egypt to rescue Jasmine and punish Abanazar.
”Such haphazardness and complete unpredictability was hysterical’’
The unhindered nature and freedom of pantomime was truly pushed to all possible extremes and absurdities in the appearance of some very outlandish components, such as the trio of dancing rabbits performing pirouettes and arabesques across the stage at random intervals as well as a tour bus advertising next year’s production of Cinderella briefly stopping on stage.
The opening of the curtains subsequent to the interval was a real “what is going on?” moment: a singing smiling moon swiftly joined by the planets each uniquely characterised with differing facial expressions and dance styles all accompanied by David Bowie’s ‘Starman’. If this was not yet quite ridiculous enough a space shuttle then dropped down towards the stage with a plush astronaut holding the Union Jack on board, in a brief albeit very random homage to Tim Peake. Such haphazardness and complete unpredictability was hysterical, but in pantomime can anything be classed as out of place or unexpected? As articulated in the penultimate number of this production, in panto “anything goes.”
In true panto tradition, embedded in the script were casual references to current trends and fixations: a rendition of the ‘Pen pineapple apple pen’ song (in truth I was not completely sure what was going on here until the original video actually appeared on my social media after the show) as well as a hilarious impression of X Factor’s Honey G. Whilst such scenes were met by great laughter and applause from the eager audience, it was clear that such references were lost on a number of people with myself included on the former example.
”Darren Southworth playing the exaggerated and embellished Empress of China and Nathan Elwick as the chipper Wishee Washee’’
The entire cast were truly embraced by the audience with few scenes gaining little or no laughter. Nonetheless, the true stars were clear: Darren Southworth playing the exaggerated and embellished Empress of China and Nathan Elwick as the chipper Wishee Washee. The stand out performance however came from John Elkington as Widow Twankey, not only causing unrivalled applause and laughter from the audience, but eliciting noticeable smirks and mirth from fellow cast members on stage.
”This particular audience on the opening night was fantastic, truly relishing the part they needed to play’’
A major element of the pantomime is of course the sense of audience participation. This particular audience on the opening night was fantastic, truly relishing the part they needed to play, entirely ready to boo, cheer and of course respond to the classic “oh no it isn’t” “oh yes it is” sequence all in addition to a constant bubble of laughter. The sense of enjoyment was felt throughout the crowd from people of all ages. Admittedly, it took a little time for the spectators to feel fully involved and warmed up for their participation. Yet by the interval the sense of enthusiasm had grown rapidly, with everyone begging for more when the final curtain eventually dropped.
This production of Aladdin was truly absurd and extravagant, completely fulfilling the expectations of a classic festive pantomime. It took some warming up but overall was incredibly entertaining and enjoyable.
7/10 – Great show but room for improvement
Image courtesy of The Nottingham Playhouse
‘Aladdin’ is running at The Nottingham Playhouse until Saturday the 21st of January. For more information and to book tickets, see here