Aladdin at the Orchard Theatre

I hate Panto. Oh Yes I do…..or maybe I don’t.Tonight’s performance of Aladdin at The Orchard Theatre changed my outdated and somewhat jaded perception of pantomime and everything surrounding it.

Admittedly I haven’t seen a full scale theatrical pantomime since I performed in one in the 80’S (in a strange twist of fate at The Orchard too) where I was part of the juvenile chorus, and played the role of a policeman who had ‘shrunk’ in the wash and had to run out to the audience and shout “she’s in the toilet” when Silly Billy was reading out birthdays and even then, at the tender age of 10, knew that the show wasn’t particularly funny or ground-breaking.

Aladdin Alexis Gerred and Stephanie Elstob in Aladdin at The Orchard Theatre. Credit Luke Varley.
Photos: Luke Varley.

However Aladdin at The Orchard has just converted me. It was a spectacular feast for all the senses from beginning to end, and I am in awe at how much this British tradition has updated itself while still retaining all the features that made it popular in the first place.

Without revealing too many spoilers I will just say that I absolutely loved how the show started with the ‘baddies’ scene. Setting the story with some amazing animatronics. My 6-year-old son who accompanied me for the evening did not feel the same way however, and this overload of evil, had him shaking until the bribe of an ice cream in the interval! I understand that scary scenes are part and parcel of a pantomime, but not sure if this was a little too much so early on?

Marti Pellow is cast as the evil Abanazar, and once the effects are out of the way, does a sterling job in being just bad enough, but with a glint in his eye. Exactly the way a panto baddie should be. His iconic velvety voice almost makes you forget that he is mean during his songs and the obvious draw of fans ensure a rousing round of applause after every number, until the end when he has won the audience over with his nastiness and he just gets a huge boo!

David Robbins in Aladdin at The Orchard Theatre. Credit Luke Varley.

The standout performances for me came in the shape of Wishy Washy played by Britain’s Got Talent’s Semi-Finalist and uber talented Ricky K and Widow Twanky played by David Robbins.

Ricky K had a natural ease throughout his performance and had both young and old in the palm of his hand (Hell, even I was yelling ‘Hiya Wishy’) The years of song and dance experience was obvious without overshadowing the role and in particular, his adaptation of his now infamous ‘Laugh out loud love story’ performance was highly amusing.

Robbins’ dame was one of the best I have seen. Subtle in acting style (which I loved) but huge in costume changes and comedy. Robbin’s bought an air of straight guy to the role which worked perfectly alongside Ricky K’s infectious energy.

And the wigs. Wow the wigs, which I later read are created all by Robbins’ himself, each and every one, a masterpiece.

Aladdin was played by the suitably handsome Alexis Gerred, who played the part well. I always think principal boy of panto is probably he hardest role to play but he managed to inject some fun into Aladdin and along with some fantastic vocals and dancing made Aladdin my 6 year old’s favourite character.

Landi Oshinowo as The Empress of China, Lucy Van Gasse as Scheherazade and Stepahine Elstob as Princess Jasmine all did sterling jobs with some beautiful singing from both Landi and Lucy and some great dance moves from Stephanie but this really was the boys show, so the girls did get somewhat overshadowed purely from a writing perspective, it might have been nice to see the girls be a little more feisty.

The choreography by Karen Bruce and performed by the ensemble was a delight too, up to date without being too intrusive and still maintaining the feel of the show, it was executed to a high standard from both adults and children.

There was only one thing that outshone the amazing performances, and this was the special effects by The Twins FX. The magic carpet was truly magical, and even with my knowledge of theatre, I am still unsure how this was done so believably. And then there was 3D trip on the magic carpet, which although very scary (again my 6-year-old had his head buried in my arm!) was incredible, even I was jumping out of my seat, certainly not for the feint hearted.

A huge round of applause should also go to the designers and crew of the show. It was seamless. I think I may be a pantomime convert especially if all pantomimes have been brought up to the 21st century in the way that Aladdin has. An up to date, yet traditional masterpiece. What a treat!

Review by Amy Farlie

If you like this review you might also like my review of Cinderella at The Churchill Theatre

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