The pantomime season is upon us and I have just attended the Oxford Playhouse contribution to the genre for 2015 – Aladdin. As always, there are outrageous and surprising variations on the basic material – this one being set in an Oxford-cum-China-cum- Arabia that the local audience can relate to.
The theatre was full for the performance I saw; and there was a considerable and clever amount of audience participation, well beyond even the usual shouting of “he’s behind you” and the hissing and booing of the villain. All the traditional and required set pieces were present. The cast had all the energy and engaging charm that one could wish – with a superbly outrageous Window Twankey by Nigel Betts, a fine and villainous Paul Barnhill as Abanazer; an engaging duo of lovers – the vain Aladdin who has to learn to be himself to win his true love and the feisty Princess Rose who has a mind (and Scottish accent) or her own and is nobody’s fool – played by Adam Samuel-Bal and Kiran Sonia Saware. At the centre of it all once he finally arrives, is the Genie (and sometimes the Emperor) of David Rubin. Rochelle Rose must be singled out as the Spirit of the Ring and Nathan Bryon as Wishee Washee deserves a special mention too.
The script by Steve Marmion is observant of all the vaudeville-like traditions of the season, as was his directing. He is the artistic director of the Soho Theatre in London and a veteran of panto writing and directing; and his skill and experience showed. I would have preferred a few more jokes aimed at the grown ups over the heads of the children, perhaps a bit more contemporary satire for the grown ups, but that is my only quibble. Marmion’s directing was spirited and loose enough to allow for all the interaction required – and I suspect that the show will develop the more it is performed.
There were some delightful set pieces: Widow Twanky’s laundry; the search in the desert to find Aladdin’s cave that involves Twanky in a Gypsy Rose Lee strip tease; the opening of Act II in the cave; the appearance of the Genie; the curtain drops representing the settings; and, above all perhaps, the magic carpet ride and the singing by Rochelle Rose of Adele’s Hello during that sequence. The choice of songs and music for the show (Tom Mills is listed as composer) was entirely praiseworthy. The energy level was high throughout. The set designs by Liz Cooke and the illustrations by Korky Paul are charming and also praiseworthy and give the show a superb and invigorating look.
This is a very fine, witty and traditional pantomime and if you have young children or grandchildren living within striking distance of the Oxford Playhouse, you should not hesitate to give a chance to visit this traditional Christmas treat.