PANTO season is well and truly upon us, oh yes it is, and back with a vengeance is Bath Theatre Royal’s annual offering of comic capers, furious family fun and a baddie of wonderfully over the top proportions.
2016 brings us Aladdin, the classic tale of the poor soul who falls in love with a princess and will do anything to marry his fair maiden.
Mark Rhodes, of Sam and Mark fame, is our hapless hero and the Brummie presenter is the perfect leading man with energy, enthusiasm and a great voice to boot.
His aid and confidant Wishee Washee, played by Bath legend Jon Monie, carries this packed two-and-a-half-hour show with witty one-liners, hilarious slapstick scenes alongside PC Pong (Tom Whalley) and plenty of audience participation, as you would expect in any panto worth its weight in gold lamps.
Returning for a second year as dame is the very capable Nick Wilton, bringing Widow Twankey to life in all her huge-wigged glory, and between them Jon, Nick, Mark and Tom perform pantomime magic with their perfect balance of tongue-in-cheek humour and camaraderie clearly visible on stage.
Gemma Naylor, from Nickledeon’s Nick Jr Channel, does an admirable job as Princess Jasmine but it is the genie, or Slave of the Ring, played by Loula Geater who really steals the show.
Impressive throughout, Loula takes this action-packed adventure to new levels when she bursts into a no holds barred rendition of Hero.
Whilst Aladdin flies a magic carpet in the background, all eyes are on the blonde bombshell of a genie whose petite figure belies such a powerful voice.
Of course no panto would be complete without an evil sorcerer. Emmerdale and Coronation Street star Bill Ward plays the wicked Abazanar to perfection with both the loud, cackling cries all children want from a baddie and an enjoyable ability to laugh at himself which goes down well with all the parents in the audience.
Young dancers from the Dorothy Coleborn School fill the company and the set, as always in Bath, is a major achievement for a theatre of this size.
Writer and Director: Michael Gattrell Musical Director: Oliver Rew Choreographer: Danielle Drayton Reviewer: Harry Mottram
A sparkling finale from a production that is kind-hearted to the core
and delivers beautifully choreographed dancing and musical set pieces
with the fabulous vocals of Loula Geater as the Slave to the Ring
lighting up the Main House. Michael Gattrell’s Aladdin
is a buoyant, bubbling, good-natured traditional pantomime that never
allows the pace to falter and is filled with all of the ingredients
necessary for a wholesome production.
Jon Monie pulls the story together
as Wishee Washee. He invites children onto the stage to have a chat and
a go at Kung Fu, pours liquid gunge over PC Pong’s (Tom Whalley) head
and fits in birthday greetings to members of the audience while being
the comically useless brother of Aladdin. However, children complain
that he doesn’t throw enough sweets to the audience – so he shows room
for some confectionary improvement despite his commanding presence. The kind-hearted tone of the show extends to the baddie Abanazar
played with relish by Bill Ward who can’t help debunking his evil
persona with self-deprecating asides. No small child will have
nightmares over his dramatic entrances and dastardly plans to steal the
magic lamp. Up against him is the wholesome nice guy Mark Rhodes as
Aladdin who any mum would love as a son since he is so nice and sings
and dances so well. Shame about his mum though; Nick Wilton as matriarch
Widow Twankey is superbly grotesque and is just one innuendo short of
being too smutty. Of course, the shadow of the late Chris Harris still
haunts the dressing rooms of the theatre as the grand dame for many
years, but he would surely approve of Wilton’s take on Peking’s least
politically correct mum. Silk clad Gemma Naylor is suitably beautiful as Princess Naylor if an
unlikely looking Chinese aristocrat as she falls for Aladdin in a waft
of sequined veil of love at first sight. A real star turn is Tom Whalley
who brings some period piece old style music hall acting as the hapless
copper to the fore while another old style acting gem is Glyn Dilley
playing the straight man as emperor. A much-simplified storyline inspired by late 18th Century
notions of where the “East” is (Arabia, Persia, China and Morocco) in a
panto that refreshingly includes local references, current political
quips, topical notes and many a joke at the expense of residents of
nearby towns. Yes, all the ingredients of a traditional show are here
and performed with energy in a show that knows its audience. In a
cracking dance and song production, it is a pity about the dated looking
flats depicting old Peking. They look as if dropped in from a panto of
another era. A small matter perhaps but when the show zips along with
stand-out singing, exquisite dancing from the Dorothy Coleburn School of
Dance, and a cast on fire – sets and design are important.
Melissa Blease reviews this year’s pantomime at Theatre Royal Bath – Aladdin – which is on until Sunday 8 January
Like many naughty little girls, I have to admit that I do love a really good bad boy. And in Aladdin, this year’s Theatre Royal pantomime, Bill Ward (Coronation Street, Emmerdale) as Abanazar is exactly that: a really, really good baddie, subtly camp (if indeed one can describe a man wearing an emerald green-sequinned ceremonial collar, a donut hat decorated with velvet and feathers, a swooshy cape and several bling-rings worn on top of heavily embroidered gloves as ‘subtle’) and relying more on quick-witted sarcasm to get his point (world domination, in case you wondering) across rather than roaring his intentions and threats. Yes indeed, Bill is perfectly bad enough for me.
Having said all that, I’m partial to a really good goodie too, and Mark Rhodes’ Aladdin is a good little girl’s dream come true: kind, cheeky and super-sweet – the perfect Pop Idol prince. As for Princess Jasmine (Gemma Naylor), she’s, like, just tooooo pretty, while Loula Geater (as the Slave of the Ring, no less) is one part TOWIE, one part blonde version of Jordan and all parts gorgeous musical theatre diva.
But if I sound as though I’ve suddenly turned the clock back on feminist attitudes, gender stereotyping and the narrowing of the pink vs blue debate by at least five decades, then I offer you a resounding “Oh No I Haven’t” – I’m merely immersing myself in traditional pantomime territory, hanging my serious critical faculties at the door and allowing the Theatre Royal’s annual festive fest to work its time-honoured magic, abiding by a strict set of long-established pantomime rules that can never be seriously challenged.
Originally a Middle Eastern folk tale laden with allegories based around the abuse of power, the misuse of supernatural forces and the enduring effects of love (yes, really!), the story of Aladdin was dramatised for the British stage in 1788 by Irish actor John O’Keefe, and has topped the UK panto charts for well over 200 years, with the fable’s popularity being further boosted by the success of the 1992 Disney film version.
To summarise the plot, a poor boy (Aladdin) – son of laundrywoman Widow Twankey – sets his sights on a beautiful princess and goes all-out to get his gal, only to be tripped up along the way by an evil sorcerer, his magic lamp and the genie within that lamp.
Aladdin has a daft brother called Wishee Washee, and in this version there’s a policeman in the mix too. Oh, and it’s all set in downtown Peking, in an unspecified century (presumably fairly recent, as mobile phones, references to the Great British Bake Off, jokes about Donald Trump and Justin Timberlake’s hit feel-good anthem Can’t Stop the Feeling are highlight moments as the action rolls along).
Nick Wilton is, as ever, a fabulous Dame (Widow Twankey): hilarious, ridiculous, a little bit Les Dawson-esque and dressed, in all scenes, in outfits of the worst possible taste (we particularly loved the washing line fascinator and the permanently askew aprons). Jon (Wishee Washee) Monie, meanwhile, does the thing Jon Monie does best throughout the whole shebang – he’s a master of the art of comedy timing, corny and contemporary in equal measure, and always totally loveable. As for Tom Whalley’s PC Pong, well this chap’s talents are set to go stellar – he’s a permanently-sparkling, super-vivacious firecracker, fizzing with high-voltage energy.
High-tech special effects are kept to a minimum, while sets, sparkle and fabulous costumes are pushed to the fore – the flying carpet scene in particular is pretty awesome, kids, accompanied as it is by Loula Geater’s soaring vocals.
The band in the pit play a big role too, as do the dancers from the Dorothy Coleborn School and the super-glam, high-energy dancers in the Citizens of Peking chorus. All in all, this big jolly Christmas outing comes to us courtesy of one big energetic ensemble, put together with the best intentions, lashings of good-natured good fun, dollops of wit and generous sprinkles of party season magic; it’s just all good, even (and especially) that bad guy…
Stars from the Theatre Royal Bath's pantomime Aladdin have been busy about Bath, spreading Christmas joy to people of all ages. On
Thursday, December 15, principle cast members visited the Children's
Ward at the Royal United Hospital where they met young patients and
children had the chance to meet Aladdin, Princess Jasmine, Abanazar and
Dame Widow Twankey all in their colourful stage costumes.
and Coronation Street actor, Bill Ward, who plays the role of Abanazar,
said: "We feel privileged to have met some truly fantastic young people
and families today. We also chatted with some of the team who do a
wonderful job on the Children's Ward supporting the patients on the road
to recovery. "Christmas
is such a special time for youngsters and it's especially hard being
unwell at this time of year, so we were keen to transport some pantomime
magic from the Theatre Royal to the children at the Royal United
Hospital and wish them well." After
being introduced to all the patients on the Children's Ward, the
pantomime stars delivered goodie bags supplied by Moore Stephens. Lyn
Gardiner, play specialist at the RUH, said: "We were thrilled to meet
the cast today and delighted that they could take some time out of their
busy schedule to come and visit us. "They
brought fun and enjoyment to our patients and their families and it was
so lovely to see their faces when they met their favourite TV stars. We
would once again like to thank them for coming to the RUH."
It is not just children who received joy from a panto visit. On
Tuesday, December 13, actor Nick Wilton who stars as Dame Widow
Twankey, visited the weekly Age UK B&NES Lunch Club at St Michael's
Day Centre to meet diners and show his support for the charity's
Christmas fundraising appeal.
UK B&NES is currently working to raise £5,000 through its Christmas
Appeal to ensure it can help provide support for older people
throughout B&NES during the coldest months of the year.
raised will be used to assist older people in many ways, including
collecting food shopping when it is icy outside, helping them to claim
the benefits they are eligible for, as well as distributing winter
warmth packs and arranging home visits.
Wilton said: "Age UK B&NES are doing a fantastic job supporting
older people in Bath and the surrounding area through their day centres
and work in the community.
donations to their wonderful Christmas Appeal will help to provide
comfort, spread happiness and give a welcome boost to older people in
need of extra support when outside temperatures drop."
To offer help, services or to donate to Age UK B&NES, call 01225 466135.
domination is a big theme at the moment, so what more apt pantomime
than Aladdin, whose villain is a manipulative megalomaniac with global
difference between those on the real international stage and the one at
Bath’s Theatre Royal is that Bill Ward’s Abanazar is funny and
fun and excitement are what this production is all about and in the
hands of Bath favourites Jon Monie and Nick Wilton, with some stars from
children’s TV and a group of talented local youngsters, it’s the
perfect family show for the holiday season.
Ryan’s script tells the familiar story and the old favourite routines
(how could Bath panto continue without the bench and the ghost?) are
augmented by some inventive new scenes, specially the one in the
laundry. Nick Wilton’s Widow Twankey, a buxom and boisterous wench, has
an eye for the boys and costume changes to equal the Kardashian
ever loveable and rubber-faced Jon Monie is the ultimate Wishee Washee,
and Tom Whalley makes a memorable debut as PC Pong, a copper whose
vocal range could shatter glass.
Geater is an impressive Slave of the Ring, belting out her songs with
rare power. Mark Rhodes in the title role and Gemma Naylor as Princess
Jasmine make a lovely couple.
But for real appeal, look no further than the devastatingly handsome Bill Ward, a familiar TV baddie and a pantomime natural.
pretty theatre lends itself to the essential audience participation,
and as always the children are filled with glee as dragons and
launderers, princesses and flying carpets, genies and heroes dive on and
off the stage until the wedding finale. The running time is just right
to suit young families, but there are enough grown-up jokes to satisfy
Aladdin continues at Bath until Sunday 8th January.