Aladdin & his Magic Lamp

Date 12th January 2018
Society Cobham Players
Venue Cobham Village Hall
Type of Production Pantomime
Director Graham Budd
Musical Director Gill Pepperrell
Choreographer Jamie McLean

Report

Author: Jon Fox

This interesting new take on this most traditional pantomime, adapted by Rodney Pearson, took the bold step of entirely moving the action from Old Peking and setting it in Cobham, with many expected local references. Another twist was in Wishee-Washee not being the idiot son of Widow Twankey and brother to Aladdin.   

There were lots of novelties;  the first being the fairy - played with charismatic charm by Hilary Jones - being banned by the "baddie", show director Graham Budd, during a notable prologue to the story. Fortunately, the fairy "disobeyed" the director, which on this occasion was the right decision and all the better for the show to come!                                                                                                                                                                                                             

Rodney was Abanazar, all "horrible" excellence and with superb diction, presence and timing.

There was though a surprising  absence of some of the more usual panto traditions. The "behind you" ghost / mummy / gorilla etc.;  a lack of "Oh yes he is / Oh no he isn't" type repartee and a disappointing absence of "horrid" face make-up for Abanazar.  I wanted the Dame to be a more influential role than was the case here. I also saw, to my concern, the good fairy once exit stage left, which jarred. I realise why this was done as the stage right entrance was busy, but still ...........! Panto is loved by so many for its traditions and I thought this a definite mistake.

Otherwise, though there was a deal to like. The script was highly topical with humorous and even-handed party political references and good use of the local setting , which evoked much laughter from the audience. I simply loved Wing and Wong (AKA Ping and Pong) who were both marvellous and a double act in the Morecambe and Wise class. Both Nicky Barnes as Wing and Samantha Myers as Wong were highly charismatic with fine comic timing, excellent diction and made the utmost of their comic business. Their duet "Sisters", in matching red dresses was a real highlight and I also liked their Sloane ranger accents.  

Another star performance was given by Charlie English as the Genie of the Lamp. His role was enlarged and him having more dialogue was a wise choice, as his clarity of diction and larger than life personality was par excellence. Charlie is still a young man but destined for great roles in the future, judging by this evidence.

Lottie Daniel, playing the Slave of the Ring, had not the same attack, but did well nevertheless.

Megan Castle in the title role was a long legged typical principal boy, showing some nifty footwork, clear diction and a fine singing voice. Her duet with Jamie McLean as Dim Sum of "You've got a Friend in me" was sung by both young ladies in fine style. Two more strong performers therefore!

The experienced Millie Hart did really well as Wishee Washee - though somehow it felt wrong not being Twankey's son - and her thorough familiarity with the stage was easy to see. Harry Sadler as Emperor, with his adopted slight speech impediment ("bankwupt") did well in this slightly less rewarding role. Young Jessica McLean was a very pretty Princess Lotus Blossom and admirably cast.      

I have left the Dame 'til last in my principal's comments and Alex Bromley who played Widow Twankey clearly has stage ability, but needed more attack in general. I found him ideally a little young and not padded out enough for this pivotal role.  I do not like slippers on a Dame - boots and striped socks would be correct and traditional and he needed more costume changes throughout. A coloured wig was needed, rather than a black one, which though glamorous in style, lacked that over the top effect and was therefore a slight disappointment.

The famous laundry scene could have been extended and is usually the highlight of the first act. There were many effective comic touches and "business" and in a well written script,  Twankey's "I've not seen so much lolly since Amazon paid their VAT" was for my money the show's best joke.

Costumes by Mary Taylor and Jenny Burgess were adequate rather than excellent and the aforementioned Dame really did need more costumes. I understand the budget restrictions of course, but still ...........!

I thought the songsheet really needed more young children, than just one, who would go up on stage. Surely this could have been organised by front of house when the audience first arrived or at the interval, at least. Pantos need young kids up on stage for the singalong to gain the "aaah" factor from the audience.  This season I have seen several pantos where the songsheet has had mostly adults instead of kids on stage and this does look amateurish.  It does not occur in professional pantomime. However, the audience seemed to enjoy Wishee Washee's singalong, which was helpfully printed in the programme for all to read and sing.

Music at the keyboard by Gill was well played and sung with enthusiasm by all, with some well able to hold a tune and others less able, as in most pantos, where performing skills are often more important than real singing ability

Jamie McLean was the choreographer. Sound was by Margii Ross and Andrew Mair and Lighting by Stephen Farr. Alan Barlow was an effective stage manager, with set design by Hilary Jones. All these people added important lustre to the show, which I much enjoyed, despite my several adverse comments.

Producer Karen Budd and Director Graham Budd put on a show which the audience lapped up and that is after all the ultimate success in any stage production.