SHELFORD PANTOMIME 2015
Everyone held their breath this year. There were new people in the Production Team. Libby Ahluwalia was penning the script for the first time. Would she have the right touch? Lucy Carrick and Karen Rainsford were taking on Wardrobe. Would they measure up?
Never work with children or animals, so the theatre saying goes. Director Dick Wallin works with both and (more than) gets away with it. The camel was by no means his only challenge but he brought out the best in them all, irrespective of age or species.
Throughout – most beautifully – they sang (thanks to Lucy Barlow) danced (thanks to Hazel Stevenson) projected their characters (thanks to Heidi Meikle) and ate cake (thanks to Jacqui Atkins). The littlest had been skilfully coached by Mariann Bienz; the whole show was kept on the road by the omnipotent Sarah Coppendale.
Magic abounded. The stage hands must have been touched by it: scenes changed behind the curtain in unfeasibly short lengths of time. The flying carpet (Don’t ask!) was a perfect expression of it, the inspired invention of large props builder Donovan Lever. But, as ever, perhaps most magical of all, were the actors themselves...
Christian Barnes, as Abanazar, was evil personified, especially when he adopted the disguise that was intended to make him look like Aladdin’s kindly uncle, but which actually made him look like a clown from Hell. (Aladdin: “I’m your nephew? Are you sure?”)
Poor old Aladdin, “not the sharpest knife in the drawer” – unlike Hannah Jones, who played him and whose dramatic instincts were finely honed. She gave an astonishingly intelligent performance and her engaging presence as hapless hero ran through the whole like a rich seam of gold.
Talking of heroes, Thomas Hawthorn, who played Wishee Washee, proved his credentials in real life. Taken ill in the interval on Friday, he managed to go back on stage for Act II, and made it through to the end, his sparkling performance barely dimmed.
There were terrifying Bad Guys, whose signature song, performed with great spirit, was just that. (They also sang Hole in the Ground with the wonderful Theo Burr as “the man in the bowler hat”.) There were beautiful princesses – five of them – who presented a well judged blend of the traditional and the feisty. The eldest, Jasmine, played by Isabella Martin, insisted, “I’m not one of those Disney princesses,” and immediately afterwards, with nice comic timing, jumped behind Aladdin for protection. Her younger sister, Lily (Hannah Caughtry) distinguished herself most notably in her lovely solo, Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered.
There was a marvellously self-satisfied king (Ben Conway-Smith) and his long suffering queen (Flora Sharp). Flora Sharp was also impressive – along with Rachel Atkins and Corinna Hudson – as a dancer – and she sang a solo, Slipping Through my Fingers.
The royal palace was amply staffed with maids and footmen, all of whom gave lively individual performances and some of whom (eg, Jake Dann) were truly remarkable. The streets around the palace were patrolled by a trio of hilariously idiotic policemen, to whom we were much indebted for that old panto favourite, If I Were Not Upon This Stage…
Aladdin’s closest friend and confidant was Abu (charmingly played by Torin Phelps) who led a band of mischievous, whooping monkeys. Being a monkey himself, Abu could only communicate in mime, until Aladdin, in exasperation (and, it has to be said, in the presence of a genie) burst out, “Oh, I wish you monkeys could talk!” After which the inevitable happened and the audience’s delight knew no bounds.
Actually, there were two genies. The Genie of the Ring (Gregory Christodoulou) was a lovable layabout: “I can give you magic carpet rides, but I don’t go south of the Nile.” His cousin, the Genie of the Lamp (Joe Lever), in contrast, could do practically anything and even sang us a haunting solo, as if to prove it.
But the genies weren’t the only ones with a job-share. The rôle of pantomime dame was effectively shared between Widow Twankee (Sammy Meikle) and her friend Mother Brown (Laurence Hunter). There was nothing to choose between the prodigious talents of these two actors: together, they were a formidable pair and could not have been more deliciously outrageous.
At the end of the show, the Queen declared, “We’ll all live happily ever after!” The audience certainly went home happy and will hurry back next year.