Sunday, 15 December 2019

REVIEW: Aladdin at the South Hill Park Arts Centre

One of the real joys of seeing a wide range of Pantomimes is visiting the smaller venues where the creative teams work real magic with small budgets to delight their local community. One such venue is the Wilde Theatre in South Hill Park near Bracknell. Not resting on their laurels after last year's GB Pantomime Award nominations for best script and set designs, so clearly trumpeted on their handbills and poster, they set out to go even bigger and better this year with Aladdin. Victoria Spearing, last year's winner of Best stage design, has this year gone used her inventive imagination to create a huge set that magical transforms with a minimum of effort from Old Peking with false perspective, to the desert and pyramids of Egypt with an amusing simple flying sequence in between. She makes a virtue of having no flying capacity by using five multi sided trucks all artistically painted with delightful touches to amuse and intrigue. It is a truly magical setting and the Egyptian interior is exquisite. 

Within these settings the strong cast work hard with a well drilled and disciplined young ensemble to bring Joyce Branagh's traditional script to life, although on the adult only nights there are few more near the knuckle ad Libs to amuse the well lubricated members of the audience - hopefully out of ear shot of the younger cast members! Brad Clapson returns as the larger than life, over the top, outrageous Widow Twankey and dominates the stage when he is on. It’s a drag queen performance rather than a Dame but it gets plenty of reaction and laughs.

Also returning is Michael Ayiotis as a larger than life hammy Abanazar who from his first appearance sitting cross legged on a large throne bounces around the stage with loads of energy, a snarling expression and plenty of good pantomime business. He looked genuinely horrified when kissed on the lips by Twankey! Faye Ellen is back this time in the dual roles of Princess Jasmine and the Spirit of the Ring. She is a feisty powerhouse dressed a bit like Bob the Builder and can clearly fix anything!

Aladdin is played by Jake Watkins with a modern youthful delight and gets to enjoy all the usual Pantomime business of the flying carpet with Empress (Jacqueline Tate) , the ghost bench sketch (with Empress and Twankey) and the “if I were not in Pantomime” routine which mainly involves assaulting Abanazar from every direction. The Genie (and the Chief of Police) is played as an Aussie by Marnie Yule in her first pantomime. None of this felt very original and the comedy need to have an injection of new ideas to freshen up the old routines.

The wonderful musical supervision is by Tim Cumper and dynamic choreography by Charlotte Steele and together they create plenty of enjoyable songs with “Uptown Funk”, “Sucker”, “Woman”. “RESPECT” and “Uptown Girl” being the highlights.

This is a fun, tongue in cheek pantomime, beautifully set with a modern feel that definitely as director Adam Stafford says in his programme notes “punches well above its weight”.

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★★

Seat: Stalls, Row J | Price of Ticket: £22
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