Aladdin - A Wish Come True was a pantomime just like that. It has a lovely pair of jeans and dashing socks but the outfit didn’t click. And it wasn’t to do with the performances, the set, the costumes (which were fabulous) or the live orchestra - all of which were strong elements but fundamentally I think the problem was someone along the way in the production process didn’t understand the ‘thing’ that is pantomime. What sets the tone; the feel; the warmth; the in-joke of the medium just wasn’t there. There was little magic to the fairy-tale.
I mean sure it is a stock story - that a considerable amount of the audience will be familiar with - but even so you have to love and work with what you have in the stock characters and story not just deliver it without due care. What this play really needed was a dramaturg to connect and weave everything together. Parts of the Roger S Moss script are genuinely funny but so often it is let down because characters haven’t been properly established and the humour falls flat. An example was the policemen Ping and Pong - who were played by talented actors and looked funny and yet in the first half they barely raise a chuckle. This is because we didn’t know who they were and why they were funny in the context of the play apart from them looking a bit silly. Setting up the characters wouldn’t have taken much, I mean, they are called Ping and Pong - word-play options abound - even introducing them could be hilarious. Missing out on this establishment meant that even as clowns they didn’t properly work within the story-world and thus take much longer to warm up the audience.
In terms of the other characters Paul O’ Grady as Lily Savage was excellent - you’ve got a great character there and she was sensational and Darren Bennett as the evil uncle grew in menace and fun as the show went on. But Aladdin and Jasmine? I don’t think I have ever been less invested in a romance on the stage. Performance-wise they were good, she had a beautiful voice and he boundless enthusiasm but they didn’t have anything else. Stock characters aren’t about being completely flat and boring they are about meeting old friends. We recognise them and to a certain extent project our expectations but there still has to be something there.
There were some fun things that saved this evening - the little munchkin girls were cute, the costumes divine, the flying carpet impressive and the vocals and music were all strong (although not necessarily crowd raising) but again this all felt disparate and not connected. It didn’t feel written, or crafted this play. It was just there. There wasn’t enough for this show to work without its star attraction and it only just did with her divineness - and Ms. Savage would have been much better served if the entire package came along with her on her glittering train rather than paying lip service to it.
I saw this production on press night and chose not to write a review immediately. Call it festive spirit if you want but as an independent theatre reviewer sometimes I like to take the time until after the show has run before writing something up. That said, I think there is justifiable space for criticism - hence this is being published. It’s constructive and it comes from someone who does get the panto thing - so for what it is worth: get the script and the play itself into great shape and then the show will be marvelous regardless of how a baby elephant appears on stage.
Pantomime season is drawing to a close, it’s a seasonal ‘thing’ after all and not even Christmas jumpers will make it all the way through January, but remember, the next time your Gran buys you a ticket to panto that in many ways she might be more with it and hipster than you!