Abanazer – Brian Blessed
Genie of the Lamp – Ruby Wax
Genie of the Ring – Djalenga Scott
Widow Twankey – Jonathan Ellis
Wishey Washey – Paul Thornley
Aladdin – Ashley Day
Princess Jasmine – Leila Benn Harris
Emperor of China – Ian Talbot
PC Pong – Sam Bradshaw
Writer – Eric Potts
Director – Ian Talbot
Choreography – Sarah Dean
Musical Director – Warran Wills
Lighting – Tim Macall
The place was packed out, and I have to say that not a single child misbehaved themselves. This can’t be said for the adults- articles have been appearing in the press for a couple of years about badly behaved audiences and the writers of these would have had a field day during this performance. Firstly, I was amazed at just how many latecomers there were – and just how many of these people seemed to have seats right in the middle, forcing everyone else in the row to get up and let them in. The sheer amount of popcorn and noisy sweet-eaters was outrageous. Yes, I know that noisy sweets are a very lucrative sideline for theatres, particularly in panto season, but I think I’m going to start my own campaign against this. Its soooo rude, distracting for the performers and the rest of the audience, and the upcoming generation of theatre-goers is being taught that going to see a show = eating noisy food and slurping drinks, just like going to the cinema is these days, and bugger the irritation it causes everyone else. And it wasn’t just the audience – the front of house staff were major noise culprits as well; constantly walking up and down the side aisles, leaning around at the sides to watch a bit of the show then congregating en masse to have a good, loud talk about it. Absolutely disgraceful – and extremely unprofessional.
Panto is, of course, a traditionally English form of theatre, so I was disappointed that this production soft-pedalled a lot of these traditions. There was no “behind you”- ing, very little “oh, no it isn’t”-ing and no comedy wallpapering scene. There was also only one Chinese Policeman; traditionally there are two, the production company obviously being too tight to pay for a second one (neither had the costume budget apparently run to providing the leading man with a pair of tights – not a good move as it looked like he had a pair of milk bottles hanging out of the bottom of his breeches. He could at least have put some make-up or fake tan on his shins). It was, however, nice to see that one particular panto tradition had been maintained – that of employing a troupe of absolutely hopeless dancers from the type of dancing school generally to be found over suburban supermarkets, in this case “June Pughe’s School of Dance, Allesley” (syllabus includes Jazz, Tap, Ballroom and loft lagging).
Brian Blessed was, well, Brian Blessed (as always). Never will anyone ever convince me that this man can play any part other than Brian Blessed. What I particularly dislike about him is a pathetic habit (one which he shares with the actor Royce Mills) of quite literally asking for applause by either making a gesture with his hands to the audience or, as he did this evening, by actually saying “Come on, that’s got to be worth some applause”. This is something that even the rankest amateur knows is tacky beyond belief. Djalenga Scott was particularly noteworthy as the sexy Genie of the Ring (nice to see this part actually included for once!). Jonathan Ellis was not quite on best form as Widow Twankey (sad fact: Twankey is a blend of Chinese Tea, so the late Mr. Twankey must have been a Tea Merchant) and some of his costumes were quite disappointing. One of the conventions of panto is that the Dame’s costumes are completely OTT, and that a different one is worn for every scene. Here, one costume was worn three times, and one “costume” consisted merely of a purple velour tracksuit that looked as if it had been bought at the local branch of TK Maxx that very afternoon).
Thank heavens for Ruby Wax – the saving grace of the entire production, with a nicely observed, sardonic and sarcastic turn of caustic wit that lanced through much of the saccharine bogging down the stage. The jokes about Pamela Anderson were particularly clever, seeing as the botoxed-to-buggery Ms. Anderson is taking over the role of the Genie in a couple of weeks’ time. In fact, I must quote you (at some length) from Ms. Anderson’s biog in the programme as it is quite heave-inducing:
The most recognisable icon of the new millennium continues to hit her stride again and again in so many different fields. this model, actress, mother, entrepreneur, philanthropist and activist has appeared on more magazine covers than any other star of her generation….. Her unparalleled career in television extends from the extraordinary global phenomenon which was Baywatch to her recent global documentary series Pam – Girl on the Loose. …though she does not think of herself as an “actress”[that's lucky!]..she has collaborated with some of the most esteemed artists and photographers of the age. … Pamela is currently delighted to be launching her own fragrance Malibu by Pamela Anderson, followed by an extensive range of related products. This is now available in drugstores across America and coming to Europe at the beginning of next year. Negotiations are ongoing for the launch of several international spa hotels based around Pamela’s name and her principles [so they will obviously be called the "Waggle your tits at the camera and take the cash Hotels"]…at 41 years old, this powerful woman, devoted mother, sex symbol and style icon continues to live life on her own terms and give meaning to everything she does.
Honestly, she’s got a great career in comedy ahead of her if she wrote that. It would almost be worth going back to see this show when she takes over just to see what an utter tits-up she’ll undoubtedly make of it.