ALADDIN AT THE CAMBRIDGE ARTS THEATRE
Glamour and glitz; pantomime is when the British theatre lets its hair down and audiences countrywide suspend their cynicism, abandon their political problems and laugh along. Cambridge Arts has a bold record of success with this annual festival of outrageous fun and their new production has all the razzmatazz required.
From the first bars of the bespoke band it is magical : maestro Richard John ‘Uncle Richard’ has directed the music through a range of brilliantly performed songs – as well as the tympani tied into the comic stunts - to make a sparkling showcase of sound. There was a thrill in the atmosphere, a child-like glee of anticipation. Children agog with delight. Lucky too the two empty seats next to us were filled at the last minute with flamboyantly dressed, super- friendly chaps wearing the most exquisite make-up, gorgeous outfits - one in high- heeled stilettos with a long raven mane of hair. The scene was set.
Pantomimes at Christmas belong to a great tradition of people’s drama. Some say it’s the descendant of the Italian Commedia del Arte with its cross-dressing principal actors exchanging roles. Or Opera Buffa; knockabout farce for the paying public. Another source was surely the medieval Mystery Plays performed outside cathedrals on Holy Days, where the Devil battled it out in deadly comic conflict with Saint Michael the Archangel for comic capers. There is so much that is deeply traditional in a good production. Antics from Shakespeare’s comedies are there, as well as music, a battle of good against evil from Biblical sources and a large dollop of Music Hall sauce and folklore story telling. But not too much. Audiences want entertainment, and they get the lot in the Arts Theatre’s clever mélange of genres.
The company has gone for old-fashioned fun and every single cast member is on point for maximum hilarity.
Widow Twanky, a consummate performance as the all-important dame, was experienced actor Matt Crosby. The lynchpin of the performace, his comic timing is magnificent, his script witty and stage presence colossal. The Widow’s sweet unsuccessful son Wishy-Washy with his companion monkey was Max Fulham. It is a role played with true child-appeal – also capable of some wicked innuendo from Gordon his stuffed alter ego. The virtuoso Aladdin was a versatile Holly Easterbrook, a girl with a golden voice and enough no-nonsense hockey-field flamboyance (and the lovely legs) to carry off the traditional hero’s role with style. Suzie Mathers as the hapless Princess sang up a storm on her solos and also switched her simpering girly role to drop to her knees to propose to Aladdin at the finale. Dropping (painfully) to their knees Widow Twanky and Wishy Washy did a wonderfully solemn rendition of “ Bring him Home’ – with the Widow trying to silence her son’s tuneless warbling. His encore was ‘Bring it Down’ addressed at the band for the demanding key he had to sing in. Alright - you had to be there -but it was hilarious – and witty.
Liza Goddard was a charming Mother of the Bride Empress and the two genies Rosalind James and the celebrated singer Andy Abraham really rocked it up with some fabulous numbers. The children cast as soapy slaves in the Palace were wonderful, in the programme as Team Wishy and Team Washy but where were their full names? They were so cheerful talented and alert they deserve a professional recognition.
But the star of the show was the villain Abanazer, the legend that is Wayne Sleep. Dancing with impressive energy “ She’s still got it!” cried one of the cast after his first burst of brilliance in an on-the–spot triple pirouette, he clearly inspired the massively talented Ensemble dancers to some epic hoofing – whilst also keeping the comic spirit generously alive.
Honestly - worth going for on its own.
Would small children enjoy it? Yes. There are scary sequences but a reliable Aladdin has a comforting super-hero remedy ready in seconds for each tight corner. Are there any boring bits? No and thrice no. The company kept up the action even through the traditional comedy routine before the big finale. Remember that from years gone by? It’s deployed for set- changes behind the scene and often a bit tedious. Slapstick can be a turn off but this was laugh out loud. Almost liberatingly simple, two energetic comics sliding over in the laundry, but excessively funny. “The floor was greased so much, no one could stay upright,” confided an insider.
Surprise your inner child and any little children you take along, with a taste of true theatre.
Aladdin is at the Cambridge Arts Theatre until January 6th.