Muddy reviews: Aladdin at Yvonne Arnaud
Right then. A little confession. When I first came to these fair shores, I didn’t care much for panto. It just seemed so silly and absurd. Another of those funny British peculiarities. And all those ‘it’s behind you’ jokes. Pah!
But that was then, and this is now. And last night’s performance of Aladdin at Yvonne Arnaud Theatre in Guildford just confirmed my penchant for panto. I think you’ll love it too.
Most pantos cover all the predicable bases of including a couple of strong singers, a couple of strong actors (oh, a bridge too far?), a cross-dresser, a token local performer and a core of over-extended backing dancers. This year’s line-up at Yvonne Arnaud pretty much towed that line, with Olivier award-winning Janie Dee as the perpetually tipsy Genie of the Lamp (a girl after my own heart!) and Ray Griffiths (Star Wars – The Phantom Menace, three Harry Potter films plus Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) as PC Pongo, as probably the biggest names, although Kit Hesketh-Harvey was quite the pro in this too. And West End whizz Emma Thornett was also pretty good as Aladdin.
Guildford local and Eagle radio breakfast show host, Peter Gordon, as Widow Twankey was in danger of stealing the show every time he came onto the stage, even though in his 11th year of performing at YAT his patter is comfier than a pair of Uggs.
One thing to applaud in this panto is that both halves were funny. Often you get a brilliant opening act and then a sluggish finale or vice versa, but this one rollicked along all the way through, and my husband and kids, who had rocked up at the theatre being a bit grumpy and ungrateful for the wonderful experiences and sacrifices I continue to make for them on a daily bloody basis I tell you suddenly became joyful and giggly and good-natured.
The headlines? Hesketh-Harvey was wonderful as Abanazar, nailing the panto bad-guy to perfection, serial YAT panto performer, Jamie Brook as lovable but dim Wishee Washee, Rachel Knowles, who played a sassy-bordering-on-sexy Spirit of the Ring, and Charlotte O’Rourke as sweet Princess Jasmine, who was by far the strongest voice on stage.
The singing strayed into karaoke territory more than once, but the backing dancers busted some moves to distract from that and the jokes kept on coming, so all is forgiven for that.
A variation on the 12 days of Christmas song was hilarious, which included five custard tarts and 12 water guns. You can guess which way that went – and both my mudlets were more than happy to have their drenching. A clever set piece of comedy from Widow Twankey, Aladdin and Wishee Washee about three girls called Who, What and I Don’t Know. I won’t spoilt it for you but it must have taken hours and hours to get that one right. And a scene in Big Bertha the machine that can was your clothes while you’re wearing them, was also very funny.
There was an impressive costume change in the cave when Aladdin makes his first wish and becomes rich, suddenly appearing in a sparkling gold outfit. I’m still not sure how they did it, but it involved smoke, flashing lights, and possibly some distraction from Janie Dee’s genie. Another impressive trick was the magic carpet ride, with Aladdin flying to Egypt high above the stage.
The adult jokes are kept to a minimum, although there were a couple of mildly suggestive ones thrown in. And at three hours from beginning to end, it might be a tiny bit long for smaller kids in the evening. But all in all, a great success – fun for the kids, and fun for the adults. A big Muddy panto pleaser.