Chris Eldon Lee reviews Aladdin, which is Shrewsbury’s Theatre Severn until Saturday 10th of January.
Shrewsbury’s Pantomime Dame is in need of sturdy bloomers this Christmas.
The innovation for this year’s panto is a heavily engineered overhead gantry, high in the auditorium ceiling, which allows Evolution Pantomimes to transport characters on a flying carpet from down stage left, across the audience, to the upper circle. Aladdin is the first Principal to try it … with a certain amount of dodgy wobble. But, as you might imagine, the ever-irrepressible Brad Pitt is game for a laugh too…which makes life interesting for small boys with upturned faces. Thank goodness Widow Twanky really is ‘a fat bloke in a dress’.
Brad is on top form again this year with his classic one liners and devastating put you downs. When the audience is, for once, slightly sotto voce in its response – he has a ready-made riposte; “My costumes are louder than that!” Which they spectacularly are; ranging from a seasonal number with two non-melting snowballs (placed you know where) to his laundry apparel, topped with a washing machine on his head. When he divests to get his washing done, he does so to Tom Jones singing ‘You can keep your hat on’. Which is just as well, as his elaborate headgear looks like it must take ages to take off.
Evolution Pantomimes have been producing Christmas shows at Theatre Severn for nine years now. But they only seem to have eight pantos. (In fact, I can only think of eight pantos). So, this year we are back to square one. There is a precedent here. For decades in my childhood, Disney only had seven full length Christmas Cartoons on their stocks – and worked on the principle that kids grow up and are replaced by new kids. So, recycling the films, every seven years, is fine.
Live shows can, of course, be upgraded. So, for Christmas 2019 we have gags about vegans, a song from La La Land, and a new ‘market barrow’ routine about the current print media. And the Dame now welcomes boys and girls, mums and dads, and all gender-neutral individuals to the show. This all keenly supplements the age-old Laundry Slop Scene and the wooden bench ‘he’s behind you’ routine; which are all delivered, and received, with relish.
There are also new faces joining Victoria McCabe (whose Princess Jasmine actually has jokes to deliver this year) and Eric Smith’s Emperor – who, as usual, is the butt of Brad’s jokes. I’m just glad we didn’t get to see his thong.
The Genies are great fun. Kate Malyon is sardonically wasp-ish as the Spirit of the Ring – taking no truck from anyone – and Anelisa Lamola is wonderfully Whoopie-ish as Miss G, the Slave of the Lamp, and does absolute justice to Aretha Franklin’s classic soul number “Think”.
Abanazer is, once again, cast as a baddie who’d much rather be working for the RSC (and Phil Stewart’s pedigree suggests he might do rather well in Stratford). He has a great line which goes, “I hate children who Boo!”; which has the desired effect. Dave Bibby, Dec Moran and Harry Winchester are eminently likeable as the three Chinese lads – and it’s interesting that Aladdin only has to put on a pair of dark glasses to denote his sudden wealth.
I’m a great disciple of Evolution Pantomimes. They have transformed Christmas in Shrewsbury and given us so much joy. There is also the feeling that the shows have been getting better and better every year. So, I do have a slight niggle about seeing one of the earlier ones again – and I’m hoping that the revamping of ‘Beauty and The Beast’ next year is a little more expansive.
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