Thursday, 3 January 2019

REVIEW: Aladdin at the New Wimbledon Theatre

As the main pantomime season draws to a close for 2018/19 season, two shows hit the news headlines with leading artistes illnesses causing them to drop out mid run. The wonderful Jimmy Osmond was unable to continue and has been replaced for the rest of the run as Hook by Darren Day in Birmingham in a wave of sympathy and concern. Down in the New Theatre Wimbledon, Lee Ryan reportedly left the show at the interval during one performance and has been replaced by  Chris Durtnal with a programme insert being given out to the subsequent audiences. These changes must be very disruptive to cast and crew requiring additional rehearsals to be fitted in to the already hectic two shows a day, six days a week schedule. 

Durtnal makes a solid substitute in his leading role debut as Aladdin opposite Lauren Chia as Princess Jasmine. They combine well in a comedy song routine sat on a wall with Wishy Washy which is featured in many of the Qdos shows this year but when it comes to the big final fight with Abanazar (Adam Pearce) it is Jasmine who takes centre stage to defeat him in the sword fight while Aladdin lies unconscious. 

However the pace and comedy of the show is driven along by Paul Merton in his Panto debut as Widow Twankey and the excellent magician Pete Firman as Wishee Washee. Merton' deadpan expression and slow laconic delivery work brilliantly on TV but feel a little wooden on the Panto stage. He looked very stiff with a limp as if he was injured as he walked slowly and carefully across the stage, showing the strain of 40 + performances to date especially in the usually frenetic "if I was not in old Peking" routine. Firman on the other hand was full of energy and perfectly delivered his combination of magic and banter especially in the old bowling ball trick and in one of the show highlights, a very good handcuffed card trick with two audiences members as well I am sure supervising the Blades of Doom illusion. They are at their best together in two staples of pantomime routines about delivering the laundry to Mr Who, Mr What and Mr Idontknow and the Shrinking man washing machine.

There is a very strong performance from Linda John-Pierre as the Empress who looks like she is enjoying the show and the interactions with Merton and Firman as well as showing she has a fine soulful voice when given the chance to take centre stage. 

The main feature of the show is the extensive use of 3D video by Blue-I Technology as Aladdin, Wishy and Twankey enter the cave and meet the 3D animated Genie of the lamp and then in second act in the a far too long sequence on entering Abanazar's Lair. Although the shrieks of delight as the audience is subjected to Spiders, Rats, Dragons, Monsters, and plenty of fire and lava flows shows it works! If nothing else it gave the cast a 5 minute break! And of course we get the standard Qdos Twin FX flying carpet which never fails to impress.

Thankfully Baby Shark only makes the briefest of appearances in the show but it is disappointing to have no traditional songsheet with kids on stage after the usual rather tedious shout outs and birthdays and I hope this is not a trend that will continue next season. 

Wimbledon used to claim to be London's biggest pantomime but that title is now fiercely contested by politically correct Hackney Empire show and the adult London Palladium show and this Wimbledon Pantomime is an enjoyable familiar family friendly (aside from one Viagra joke) show in which Pete Firman shows again he is a very good all round entertainer.

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★★

Seat: Front stalls | Price of Ticket: £37
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