Panto’s resurgence in recent years has brought new attention to a format which often is a child’s introduction to live theatre. Vikki Stone’s re-imagining of the traditional Aladdin keeps the plot (well, not that there is much plot and what there is makes little sense) and brings in modern elements of beatboxing, references to TikTok, current politics and celebrity gossip. The leads wear tracksuits, the princess is feisty and unwilling to be married off to just anyone or at all but the villain is still evil and the good guys win in the end.
The show starts with a song about how they all know they are just pretending because they are in panto. The audience does already know that, obviously, but it’s a very on-the-nose statement to start by challenging the high level of suspension of disbelief needed to engage with the silliness that is panto. They get away with it by going on to present a show full of charm and delightful nonsense.
In most pantos, it’s often the characters around the leads who grab the attention. Under Abigail Graham’s direction, that is definitely the case here. Irvine Iqbal is a wonderfully commanding presence as Abanazer, with a chilling evil laugh bordering on a cackle. It’s hard to believe that Gracie McGonigal (Wishy, Aladdin’s sister) is making her professional stage debut in this production. Her performance is assured, giving Wishy vulnerability and wistfulness. In this production, Widow Twanky has become Dave, still a cross-dressing character but now Aladdin’s dad and played with delightful comedy timing by Stephan Boyce. The Emperor (Dan Hackie-Eton), a brilliant character played with the voice of Margaret Thatcher and the demeanour of Boris Johnson, is a tour de force of the piece with a fabulous reveal at the end of the show. Kate Donnachie is clearly highly talented as the beatboxing, glittery genie and has a great voice but the character lacks the melancholy of a spirit who’s been locked in a lamp for millennia.
Ellena Vincent (Jasmine) and Qasim Mahmood (Aladdin) have a delightful chemistry and their big scene (no spoilers!) is a highlight of the show.
There’s all the required “He’s behind you!” and “Oh no, he isn’t!” shouts and a singalong for audience participation, and lots of really really dreadful jokes. What this production lacks though is slapstick. There’s a bit of cream-pie splatting at the beginning of the show, and the Emperor falls around a lot, but otherwise the pratfalls and physical comedy that mark panto, especially for the younger audience, are missing and this unbalances the ratio between “fun for the adults” and “fun for the kids”. There are just a few too many (admittedly funny) topical political references and jokes that the children are unlikely to get.
This show may not have the high-production-values and whizzy technical trickery of the big pantos, but that’s not to its detriment. It’s a production that gives a glitter-filled kick-start to the Christmas season.
Aladdin is at the Lyric Hammersmith until 2nd January 2022. https://lyric.co.uk/shows/aladdin-2021/
Reviewer: Carole Gordon
Reviewed: 27th November 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★