Skip to main content

Review of Aladdin at Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton

Pantomimes have mostly held that special place in my heart, alongside William Shakespeare plays of all things, in that as a theatre completist, I tend to tolerate them, rather than always enjoy them. As well as tolerate though, I also appreciate when they have been performed extremely well. They may be very different beasts, but I acknowledge that both have that intense challenge for their performers, especially with panto and dealing with them pesky kids in the audience.

Aladdin though handles nearly everything with so much success that, even this hardy panto-sceptic had to concede to really rather enjoying it. It is true that 90% of the enjoyment for me was coming from one direction, and that was with Kev Orkian's rather incredible performance as Wishee Washee. Rarely have I seen a performer steal every scene, and indeed a show, to such as extent (and this is allowing for the fact that pretty much everyone else in this is also pretty good as well). His timing is exemplary, his interaction with the audience deft (including a meddlesome house manager), and his
Kev Orkian (Wishee Washee)
stunning repartee with the cast second to none. He also handles the often potential car crash that is the traditional kids on stage moment with aplomb and shows his nifty piano skills during an inspired Elton John moment. He has the longest bio in the programme, and that is saying something considering his co-stars, however, it is clear from this performance that every line is warranted, and clearly richly deserved, as he provides, perhaps old-fashioned (and there is nothing wrong with that now and again), but stunning entertainment.

The rest of the cast at times play second fiddle to his antics but put in some excellent performances of their own as well. Both Jaymi Hensley as Aladdin and Zoe George as Princess Jasmine give assured offerings as the lead love interests, looking perfect together and performing a couple of lovely little duets. They canter perfectly to the needs of the younger members of the audience.

The older members of that audience, however, are perhaps a little shortchanged at present, with the two for the mums and dads (and like me. Yes, I remember Just Good Friends!) not quite gelling as a partnership. It's true that poor Paul Nicholas' (Abanazar) big opening was stolen from him when his microphone failed to make an appearance, and I am unsure whether he totally appreciated all of Sheila Ferguson's (Scheherazade) adlibbing regarding his mic failure (which she did play with too long I feel). I like to think that he was trying to stay in character myself. Either way, I don't quite feel that this partnership is quite working yet, but these are experienced professionals, so I suspect this duo of good and evil will come good very soon as performances build.

Paul Nicholas (Abanazar)
As it is, Nicholas makes a perhaps too nice baddie, even for a panto, however, he has a few great moments, not least his rather unexpected beatboxing gangster moment, which was a extremely pleasant delight. Ferguson, meanwhile, as expected provides the strongest vocals of the show, while otherwise being an occasional foil for Nicholas. There is no question that her moment is belting out Ain't No Mountain High Enough and managing not to be upstaged by Aladdin's rather nifty flying carpet.

I really enjoyed Dom Hartley-Harris as Emporer Ming, a perfectly cast and very nicely played performance and showing some nifty moves like the rest of the cast. This is a very well choreographed piece as well, all the music sequences have been provided with a full of a fun collection of routines and the young cast members, from Mayhew School of Dance, are enthusiastic in their substantial number of appearances.

Finally from the main cast is Darren Machin's Widow Twankey, doing everything the dame of panto needs to do, look ridiculous in crazy costumes, true and fail to look like a woman and manage against all odds to be married to an unsuspecting gentleman character by the end. This production also has a very strong ensemble, which is given plenty to do and fills Aladdin with some big routines as a result.

The set ticks all the boxes as well with its colourful backdrops, while the costumes, plenty of them as this is, of course, a panto, are a delightful collection of over the top colours. The script, from Jonathan Kiley and Alan McHugh, teeters on the right side of acceptable fodder, with more laughs than groans, has all the expected local references and has an especially brilliant tongue twister sequence brilliantly performed by Orkian, Machin and very badly (for the audience's appreciation) by Nicholas.

A couple of years ago, I came away tremendously disappointed by the Derngate panto that year, Cinderella, due to its extremely poor balance with the jokes for its adult audience and attempting to make the star names more important than the show. It clearly sailed over the boundary for me, however, here with Aladdin, there is no such danger. This is perfect panto for all ages, it does what it says on the panto tin and then some. It's true that take away the quite brilliant Kev Orkian and you might have just an average panto, but with him at the Wishee Washee helm, he makes the ticket price worth it alone.

Fabulous family entertainment, but you may always be wishing, Washee would return.
⭐⭐½

Performance reviewed: Tuesday 12th December 2017 at the Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton.
Aladdin runs at the Royal & Derngate until Sunday 31st December 2017.

For further details about the Royal & Derngate see their website at http://www.royalandderngate.co.uk

Photos: Graeme Braidwood
Sheila Ferguson (Scheherazade) and ensemble.




Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Review of A Passage to India at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

Creating the world of E. M. Forster's A Passage to India for the stage and into a little over two hours running time offers many challenges, not least creating the visual world of India. However, this co-production between Royal & Derngate and simple8 throw away any need for complex sets, and bring the world of India, including some of its wildlife to life via boxes and bamboo canes. The success of this is really quite amazing as perhaps the crowning moment of the elephant brings home the most. Simple8 is an award-winning ensemble group and the way they work together to get their characters travelling through the world of India explains why they have received the awards.

A Passage to India is a 1924 novel telling of Britain's generally unpleasant rule in India and takes as its story an encounter between the elderly Mrs Moore (Liz Crowther), Adela (Phoebe Pryce), who is keen to see the real India, and Dr Aziz (Asif Khan). While their meetings seem pleasant, to begin with, e…

Review of The Flint Street Nativity, performed by University Of Northampton BA Actors at Maidwell Hall (Avenue Campus), Northampton

The Flint Street Nativity was presented by the BA Actors as part of a double bill with The Night Before Christmas, and you could hardly imagine such a difference in style. Tim Firth's genuinely, quite endearing play was quite the opposite to the rough and vicious Christmas spirit of the previous show.

Flint Street offers the intriguing situation of adult performers acting as children as they present to their audience (and always watched by the unseen, but a creepy red lighted teacher, Mrs Horrocks), their production of the nativity. It forms quite a delight of totally recognisable characters from your school days if you are able to remember that far back.

Among my favourite performances from this are Gemma Fensham as the total brat Gabriel, never seeming to have an expression other than sucking a lemon, as she breezily switches her best friend back and forth with abandon. She rather stylishly perfected the sulking strutting off routine as well, fabulous! Playing up to his size with…

Review of The Jungle Book at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

The Jungle Book is an age-old classic, made far more famous by Walt Disney than any other original writer going by the name of Rudyard Kipling. Mention the title to many people and they are more likely to say "oobee doo I wanna be like you" than say "oh, yes, the book by Kipling". Therefore to present this classic tale for the stage and dispense with all reference or hint to that ingrained music and create new music of your own is dangerous. However, that is before you witness the brilliant new work of Joe Stilgoe, with lyrics by adaptor Jessica Swale, and you realise very quickly you are in very safe hands. These are catchy, foot-tapping tunes of the killer variety.

However, Jessica Swale's adaptation is far from a procession of nifty tunes, this is a bold, clever and still very relevant production for 2017 of the now 123-year-old novel. Perhaps strong enough to live without those tunes if needed, this is no musical adaptation. Sweeping clever snatches of humo…