Pantomime at the revamped Town Hall is fast becoming an essential feature of the Sutton Coldfield Arts scene. This year it returns, courtesy of the Production Exchange, with a revamped “Aladdin”, amongst the most traditional of pantomime shows. An almost full house on a cold wet early December opening night augurs well for the success of the season. They were well rewarded for their fortitude.
This is a professional production, with the effort and money unashamedly in the cast and music. Brightly costumed, the evening opens by bursting into song and dance which drives the show to the finish. Star turn is Seren Sandham- Davies as Princess Jasmine. I last saw her in the best production of “Brassed Off” I have ever seen playing Gloria at Derby Theatre. She seems to make a habit of featuring in excellent shows. Here she is choreographer, leading lady and solo instrumentalist, most notably on clarinet during “I Will Survive”, of which more later. She sings confidently, beautifully, enthusiastically, and with a smile on her face, the focal point whenever she is on stage. Ben Boskovic is a skilled foil for her talents as Aladdin, looking good, but allowing girl power to shine.
Sam Pay is well cast as Abanazar the Baddie, laconic, relaxed and duplicitous, he laps up the boos and is an essential part of the stand -out double handed scene with Widow Twanky in the second Act.
Characterisation of the Widow is bold. In the first Act, Mathew Bugg plays her fiercely, she would easily be able to moonlight as an Erdington bouncer. In the second Act, she is transformed as femme fatale, seducing Abanazar to win back the stolen lamp. A wonderful pastiche of Dirty Dancing’s “Time of My Life” segueing into “I Will Survive” rightly had the audience howling for more. Physical comedy, great comic timing, and gutsy singing by Bugg, combined with multi-instrumental skills, was an absolute show-stopper.
Opposite Widow Twanky, Ruby Ablett plays Wishy Washy in an assured performance. She opens the show, sings and dances, and leads the audience participation sections admirably. How my heart went out to her when she had to turn away two angelic three year old girls who wanted to sneak onto stage, much to the dismay of the crowd.
She was aided and abetted in her audience interaction by Jack Alexander, who plays both Hanky Panky and Gene the Genie, with a deft comic touch.
The music and singing shines throughout, courtesy of Musical Director Sue Appleby who mainly plays keyboards, but also features as Princess Jasmine’s mother, Empress Double Chinn, in a great performance, stealing some moves and mannerisms from Cruella de Ville, and singing very well indeed. The pop songs were well chosen and well executed, with George Ezra’s “Shotgun” an unexpected delight, and highlight.
Director Colin Blumenau conceived the original production some years ago in adversity, when circumstances forced him to put it on in a big top tent. As a consequence the set is functional, with no special effects or big cave scene. Instead he has created a show with heart and life where the stars are the performers, both principals and chorus. It is modern in its interpretation, but never too far from its traditional roots. The vibrant music is mainly performed live, on stage, by the versatile cast, generating intimacy, colour and connection .
The evening runs for around two hours and twenty minutes. Children soon let you know if they are becoming bored by demands to go to the toilet. In the second half, no child or adult left their seats, so compelling was the wonderful entertainment put on by this talented cast. My expert assistant reviewers, Beau, aged seven and Sol, aged five, declared the evening to be “brilliant” and “amazing” respectively. “Aladdin” runs until the 31stDecember, with numerous matinee performances and some 6pm starts to ensure that young children do not have to stay up too long beyond their normal bedtimes. If you haven’t secured your tickets yet, I would hurry up, as many others have.