19th January 2018
St Marys Panto Group Oswaldtwistle
Oswaldtwistle Civic Arts Centre
Type of Production
Author: David Slater
Although I’m aware that for some, the idea having a favourite pantomime is akin to having a ‘favourite’ method of hammering nails into one’s skull or a ‘favourite’ way to lose a limb in a complicated boating accident, as far as I’m concerned, ‘Aladdin’ is by far the best choice of the offerings available during panto season. The exotic locales; the exciting possibilities afforded by having a cast list full of magical characters; the many words with the suffix ‘-ing’ which can be used to rhyme with ‘Peking’, providing instant wit to fill a script with... ‘Aladdin’ has it all. St Mary’s Pantomime chose well and a stage teeming with enthusiastic young performers rose to the pantomime challenge with aplomb.
Our journey into the mysterious Orient began with an overview of the plot from Abanazar himself, eliciting some early booing atop his mountain retreat. Nick Martin played an excellent part as the villainous Abanazar and I admired his tongue in cheek portrayal very much. Rhianna Courtney was a suitably robotic Slave of the Ring and the pair of them got the show off to a good start. It wasn’t long before the plot brought us to old Peking however and the hectic sights and sounds were brought to life via the agency of a jolly chorus number, introducing us to the Twankey household and a host of other assorted Peking residents.
Something of a powerhouse performance from Rhys Sage as Widow Twankey continued in the same vein as Nick Martin’s Abanazar and the two performers clearly enjoyed sparring with each other throughout the show. The ever smiling Neve Smithson was a very jolly Wishee Washee who clearly enjoyed every moment on stage. Aladdin himself was a very forthright sort of fellow and the society did well with a last minute cast change here: it’s never easy to step into another performer’s shoes at the eleventh hour and our Aladdin coped very well. Love interest Princess Jasmine was suitably regal throughout and Amy Taylor added jollity to proceedings as Suzie Pong - she of the Peking bath house - and Beth Helps gave good value as a very animated Quackers, the Peking Duck. The upper echelons of Chinese Society were well represented too, with Laila Courtney as the suitably haughty empress Tutti Frutti and Zara Hyat as the put-upon Grand Vizier (who for some reason was addressed as the ‘Visor’ by everyone else).
The Chinese police force was in the comically boisterous hands of Chop-Chop and Na-Na as played by Madison Thompson and Sophie Freeman. Chop-Chop in particular really embraced the conventions of panto, carefully reeling off her rhyming couplets with aplomb! Great work here Madison. Completing the young cast list, Alex Laing was a very blue Genie in a rather peculiar costume which gave the lamp dwelling spirit the appearance of an overstuffed mattress: perhaps this was somehow intended to give a flavour of his particular mystical significance? Throughout the show, there were some very energetic dance routines thrown in which although fairly spectacular, didn’t really have much to do with the plot and might have been more effectively worked into the narrative as opposed to being crowbarred in to facilitate a costume change or two. That said, one of the glories of pantomime is the expectation of movement, music, colour and contrast so perhaps one shouldn’t complain too much. The chorus numbers benefitted from a host of enthusiastic youngsters of all ages who were obviously enjoying themselves enormously, throwing themselves into proceedings with gusto.
All the familiar pantomime conventions were present as we journeyed from Peking to Egypt and back again via the agency of panto magic and there was even the rather nice touch of a flying carpet to whisk Aladdin and Princess Jasmine above the clouds for a charming duet. Fortunately, audience interaction was kept to a minimum - except for the mandatory booing and cheering of course - and the cast kept the story moving along nicely for the most part. The Cave of Jewels scene dragged on a bit though and I got a fed up very quickly of seeing the same UV props used twice in quick succession. In fact, the whole production was a little long and drawn out (it was a late finish considering the young ages of most of the cast - and the audience) and could have done with a trim here and there without significantly diluting the narrative: after all, it isn’t as if we need let the complications of character development or plot resolution detain us for too long in a pantomime! As the old theatrical saying has it, ‘always leave them wanting more’: on this occasion, I could have done with quite a bit less.
There were some memorable moments and interesting performances throughout the show however. I appreciated the tongue in cheek performances from Rhys and Nick very much and the obvious enjoyment the whole cast took from participating in the production was great to see. Although I have to say that for me, a live band is something of a prerequisite of live theatre, the backing tracks were at least well chosen and well cued. I think I would have preferred something a little more sumptuous from the wardrobe department for Widow Twankey but other than that, costumes were mostly of a good standard. Scenery and set changes were for the most part simple and imaginative, letting the young minds of the audience be transported to the wonderful world of ‘Panto’. The typical ‘set piece’ moments particular to pantomimes were all present and worked well as part of the narrative.
I read in the programme that this is the 51st year of St Mary’s Pantomime society which is a remarkable achievement. The hard work and dedication of the team on stage, back stage and front of house shone through and it was evident that Jakkie and her team had worked very hard to get the show to the stage: never an easy task as we theatrical types know only too well. This was my first visit to the society as District representative and although perhaps it was rather a long one (!) the warm welcome was very much appreciated. Keep up the good work, hopefully for another 51 years or more!