Melissa Blease reviews this year’s pantomime at Theatre Royal Bath – Aladdin – which is on until Sunday 8 January
Like many naughty little girls, I have to admit that I do love a really good bad boy. And in Aladdin, this year’s Theatre Royal pantomime, Bill Ward (Coronation Street, Emmerdale) as Abanazar is exactly that: a really, really good baddie, subtly camp (if indeed one can describe a man wearing an emerald green-sequinned ceremonial collar, a donut hat decorated with velvet and feathers, a swooshy cape and several bling-rings worn on top of heavily embroidered gloves as ‘subtle’) and relying more on quick-witted sarcasm to get his point (world domination, in case you wondering) across rather than roaring his intentions and threats. Yes indeed, Bill is perfectly bad enough for me.
Having said all that, I’m partial to a really good goodie too, and Mark Rhodes’ Aladdin is a good little girl’s dream come true: kind, cheeky and super-sweet – the perfect Pop Idol prince. As for Princess Jasmine (Gemma Naylor), she’s, like, just tooooo pretty, while Loula Geater (as the Slave of the Ring, no less) is one part TOWIE, one part blonde version of Jordan and all parts gorgeous musical theatre diva.
But if I sound as though I’ve suddenly turned the clock back on feminist attitudes, gender stereotyping and the narrowing of the pink vs blue debate by at least five decades, then I offer you a resounding “Oh No I Haven’t” – I’m merely immersing myself in traditional pantomime territory, hanging my serious critical faculties at the door and allowing the Theatre Royal’s annual festive fest to work its time-honoured magic, abiding by a strict set of long-established pantomime rules that can never be seriously challenged.
Originally a Middle Eastern folk tale laden with allegories based around the abuse of power, the misuse of supernatural forces and the enduring effects of love (yes, really!), the story of Aladdin was dramatised for the British stage in 1788 by Irish actor John O’Keefe, and has topped the UK panto charts for well over 200 years, with the fable’s popularity being further boosted by the success of the 1992 Disney film version.
To summarise the plot, a poor boy (Aladdin) – son of laundrywoman Widow Twankey – sets his sights on a beautiful princess and goes all-out to get his gal, only to be tripped up along the way by an evil sorcerer, his magic lamp and the genie within that lamp.
Aladdin has a daft brother called Wishee Washee, and in this version there’s a policeman in the mix too. Oh, and it’s all set in downtown Peking, in an unspecified century (presumably fairly recent, as mobile phones, references to the Great British Bake Off, jokes about Donald Trump and Justin Timberlake’s hit feel-good anthem Can’t Stop the Feeling are highlight moments as the action rolls along).
Nick Wilton is, as ever, a fabulous Dame (Widow Twankey): hilarious, ridiculous, a little bit Les Dawson-esque and dressed, in all scenes, in outfits of the worst possible taste (we particularly loved the washing line fascinator and the permanently askew aprons). Jon (Wishee Washee) Monie, meanwhile, does the thing Jon Monie does best throughout the whole shebang – he’s a master of the art of comedy timing, corny and contemporary in equal measure, and always totally loveable. As for Tom Whalley’s PC Pong, well this chap’s talents are set to go stellar – he’s a permanently-sparkling, super-vivacious firecracker, fizzing with high-voltage energy.
High-tech special effects are kept to a minimum, while sets, sparkle and fabulous costumes are pushed to the fore – the flying carpet scene in particular is pretty awesome, kids, accompanied as it is by Loula Geater’s soaring vocals.
The band in the pit play a big role too, as do the dancers from the Dorothy Coleborn School and the super-glam, high-energy dancers in the Citizens of Peking chorus. All in all, this big jolly Christmas outing comes to us courtesy of one big energetic ensemble, put together with the best intentions, lashings of good-natured good fun, dollops of wit and generous sprinkles of party season magic; it’s just all good, even (and especially) that bad guy…