Aladdin is one of the best traditional pantomimes, and the most popular, as a full house on the opening performance, a Saturday matinee, demonstrated. Panto is as integral a part of the festive season as Father Christmas, turkey and mistletoe. You mess with that at your peril. Fortunately, in the hands of Sutton Arts Theatre the tradition, and production was in safe hands.
Casting a show such as this is difficult. Finding performers who can act, dance, be comic and sing, stretches the talent pool to its limits, but Directors Emily Armstrong off stage, and Dexter Whitehead on it, have come up trumps with a fine cast.
Phebe Jackson stars in the eponymous role. Energetic, sassy and funny, Phebe has a strong singing voice, carrying the difficult “A Whole New World” , steering it clear from the pitfalls of saccharine blandness, to recreate a touching love song. Her convincing love interest, Princess Jasmine, played by Corrine Hickley plays her vocal part in delivering “A Whole New World” too.
Aladdin’s nemesis, Abanazar played enthusiastically by Robbie Newton, had great fun, sneering and snarling and being drowned out under a chorus of boos. It is said that “there ain’t nothing like a dame” and Dexter Whitehead stepped into those heels as Widow Twankey for his dame debut.
He did very well. He eschewed the camp, in favour of a straight “man in a dress” portrayal, making the most of his wardrobe malfunction as the show wore on, haranguing the audience, but selflessly avoiding showboating in favour of keeping the narrative on the move. Josh Higgs as her hopeless, hapless, son was the perfect foil, and also played it straight, but was flat in the right place!
The supporting cast is unusually strong with Phoebe Hooper particularly impressive as feisty Alka, the diminutive but, charismatic, head of the Sultan’s Guard. The Sultan himself, Ray Lawrence, is unassuming and effective, as is Alka’s sidekick, Seltzer ( Christian Blundell). Indeed a particularly pleasing aspect of this show is the youthfulness of the cast. Kira Mack, shimmies and shines as the Guardian of the Ring, while Louis Sutherland injects fresh energy into proceedings just when it is required as the Genie.
Production values are strong. The dance sequences are very tight thanks to a talented team and choreographer Emma Brookes, with the backline as in time as the front. There are plenty of pyrotechnics, and the cast return home on a Star Wars spaceship which flies over the audience to the wonderment of all.A lively, contemporaneous, script by Peter Wilman is child, and family, friendly, free of adult double entrendres.
I took along four guest critics , children whose response was one of absolute delight. There were a few technical problems, but the cast overcame them and personally lined the exits for farewells and photos at the end, a gesture which was much appreciated by an enthusiastic audience. Runs till 19th December.
This review first appeared in Behind the Arras, abridged, where a comprehensive collection of reviews from the best of Midlands theatre, from a range of reviewers, is available.