Review: Aladdin (Panto)

 Cheltenham Everyman Theatre

“Oh no he isn’t!” “Oh yes he is!”

This winter, Cheltenham Everyman Theatre’s main stage has been transformed to tell the story of Aladdin, a pantomime full of magic, adventure and hilarious comedy for all the family.

Phil Clark has written and directed this version of perhaps the most famous tale from the Arabian Nights, Aladdin, the tale about a street urchin who falls in love with a princess. In this pantomime, the hero Aladdin is joined by his mother, Widow Twankey, and brother Wishee Washee Tweedy. Before the show has even begun, Tweedy the Clown roams through the theatre greeting the audience and performing all manner of jokes and tricks on himself and some unsuspecting patrons!

Every scene is host to a greatly elaborate and brightly-coloured set, which Sue Colgrave’s choreography encourages the splendidly committed ensemble to use every foot of the stage, and for a pair of Chinese dragons to impressively leap and dance around the space at Princess Jasmine’s birthday celebration. The enchanting magic carpet rides are rather spectacular as the stage is enveloped by darkness except for the few florescent colours illuminated by ultra violet light and appropriately Wicked’s ‘Defying Gravity’ by Stephen Schwartz, is sung by Aladdin and the Princess. Wyn Pearson has included a mixture of well-known songs from contemporary musicals, as well as tracks from both older and more recent music charts, his arrangements suitably incorporated into the storytelling, providing entertainment for all generations.

Christina Modestou’s performance as Aladdin presents a confident and playful attitude as the young hero, which engages the audience and particularly the children. Modestou’s Aladdin also wins the heart of the sweet Princess Jasmin, played by Perry Lambert, but he must first prove himself to Mark Hyde’s commanding Emperor of China while being chased here, there and everywhere by the authorities of Old Peking. Sergeant Pong, played by Daniel Whitley, is brilliantly energetic and assertive, adding to the diversity of these pantomime characters.

Andrew Westfield is the Sultan who has demanded his prisoner Sherezade, played by Harveen Mann, to tell him the tale of Aladdin. Westfield also plays the evil Abanazar, while Mann portrays the Genie of the Lamp, and in switching between these characters to tell this story within a story, Sherezade transforms into the Genie in a fancy costume change on stage. Westfield as Abanazar is delightfully wicked, tormenting the audience by calling them names, and in the second act he gets to unleash his inner-diva in a medley of popular songs by Queen!

Now, the hero of the tale might oppose the villain, but the pantomime Dame and sidekick provide a terrific contrast to everything else occurring on stage; the magic ingredient in this production is the double-act between Widow Twankey and Tweedy, played by William Elliot and Tweedy the Clown respectively. Elliot as Widow Twankey takes the reins in engaging the adult members of the audience with minor suggestive word-play and topical jokes, as well as welcoming school parties and celebrating birthdays. Tweedy delights and charms the entire audience with his exemplary masterful comic timing throughout the show. When something might go awry or they catch each others’ eye mid-joke, Tweedy and his fellow cast members valiantly attempt to keep straight faces, adding to the great amusement of the audience.

Aladdin is a pantomime full of constant energy and fun, and a fantastic way to celebrate this ‘season to be jolly’! Prepare to be amazed by the magic of this Arabian Nights’ tale, to help your favourite characters by telling them who is behind who, and to boo and hiss and laugh along with everyone else!

Aladdin is performing at the Cheltenham Everyman Theatre until January 2014.

TJM

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