Pros: A bright and sparkly set, and colourful lighting design give this show a fun and festive face that smiles broadly at the audience.
Cons: Over two and a half hours is too long; puns and pop songs have a short life expectancy.
Pantomime is defined by its deviation from traditional dialogue-led drama, and therefore I found it thoroughly appropriate and pleasing that the Shaw Theatre’s current run of Aladdin is held together brilliantly by two musicians that flank either side of the stage. The musical accompaniment, to both the songs and the comedic sketches, is witty and warm. The actors’ physical gags are brought to life by the live sound effects, and the interaction between actors and musicians was also nice to see.
The producers of this show clearly know their genre really well: they’ve captured the collaborative essence of pantomime, as not only music but voice, costume, lighting, set, song and dance all work together to evoke the fantastical and fun mood. Located next to the swish Pullman Hotel, The Shaw Theatre is also a welcomingly modern home for the show. The seats in the amphitheatre are gloriously roomy and comfortable (I am 5’10, and about 4’10 of that is leg so I appreciate space). Disappointingly the bar was cash only, but then if I was a vendor selling ice cream for a few pounds I might not want to see people whipping out the AMEX in a 15 minute interval. Still, I really like ice cream.
Daniel Street’s colourful and atmospheric lighting design was styled with great musicality, and like the music it complemented other elements of the show well, especially the ambitious and sparkly sets. In the same way that a disco would never be fun in the daylight, a panto requires a bit of illusion to take the audience out of reality and into the fiction. Street did this well, helped amply by set designer Helga Wood, whose varied and textured designs transported us from Euston, to a cave in Egypt, and a laundrette in China.
Plummer Wood Productions’ narrative vaguely resembles the classic tale that most of us know well from Disney’s animation of Aladdin, but with a bit of a panto twist of course (I won’t spoil it for you). Ben Richards (TV credits include The Bill and Holby City) was a convincing nemesis for our poor hero Aladdin (Justin Thomas), and Widow Twankey (Chris Dennis) and Wishee Washee (Paul Lawrence) formed an amusing comic duo. They picked on audience members, match-made men and women, and threw toilet rolls at just about anyone and everyone. This interaction was often funnier than the scripted jokes, and showed off the cast’s professionalism and ability to improvise. The audience is an uncontrollable (and loud) entity; never more so than in a panto, so these guys handled it well!
At over two and a half hours however this panto was far too long. Fairy tale needs to be brief or the fantasy can start to fade. I think the last sing-along song could have been cut, because the story had reached a happy conclusion and I was ready to go get the ice cream I never got at the interval.
Aladdin at the Shaw Theatre is good value for groups of friends and families; the producers have thought about everything so you get music, comedy, dance and singing for your buck. The choreography was smart, the puns not unbearable, and the set had just the right amount of sparkle for this time of year; if you like pantomime then you’ll enjoy this. If you don’t then, well you’d never go and see it in the first place, would you?
Producer: Jamie Plummer and Dorcas Wood for Plummer Wood Productions
Director: Chris Dennis
Designer: Helga Wood
Lighting Designer: Daniel Street
Sound Design: Orbital Sound
Box Office: 0844 248 5075
Booking Link: http://www.shaw-theatre.com/
Booking Until: 3 January 2015