Dec 14 2019 | By More

★★★★☆    Magical

Church Hill Theatre: Fri 13 – Sat 21 Dec 2019
Review by Hugh Simpson

Aladdin is Edinburgh People’s Theatre’s 67th consecutive pantomime but there is nothing tired about it. There may be baggy elements, but these are more than overcome by attention to comic detail, awareness of what really makes a panto and sheer good fun.

Ben Crocker’s off-the-shelf script is flexible enough to incorporate the necessary local elements, funny and well enough constructed to entertain. However, it lacks a certain tightness.

Joanna Meiklejohn and Peter Morrison. Pic: Terry Railley

It is unusual to criticise a pantomime for having too much plot, when the reverse is so often the case nowadays. Aladdin does have more storyline to get through in this regard, but the first half in particular is extended to a ridiculous degree, with over an hour elapsing before Aladdin even gets to the cave.

The second half is much more sprightly, although much seems to have happened during the interval that is skated over. A comparative lack of pace at times is something that will surely be remedied during the run, but there are just too many characters and too many scenes.

It never really drags, however, as Derek Ward’s direction and Mandy Black’s choreography ensure a level of slickness that means audiences do not have to make any allowances for this not being a professional production. It is certainly professional in outlook, not least with regard to costumes, props and sets, and has many of the elements of panto more high-profile efforts have unfortunately jettisoned over the years.

sparky and expansive

Most prominently, EPT still feature a Principal Boy, with Carol Bryce’s Aladdin being sparky and expansive without ever going over the top. Less traditional is a female Dame, but Mandy Black’s Widow Twankey has a good combination of sympathy and bite.

Carol Bryce, Mandy Black, Peter Morrison, Lynn Cameron, Derek Ward and Mags Swan. Pic: Terry Railley

Lynsey Spence’s Princess Jasmine is more lively and assertive than many such characters, while Mags Swan and Derek Ward give her parents a pleasing combination of comedy and hauteur. Ward has had to take over the part of the Emperor due to the indisposition of the original cast member, but his panto know how is always welcome; he is able to sustain a big comic presence without ever upstaging anyone.

The large number of featured performers does mean that some do not get as much time in the spotlight as they deserve. Peter Morrison’s Wishee Washee is not always on stage long enough to give his engaging ‘daft laddie’ persona full reign, and at times he is overshadowed in his appeal to the younger members of the audience by his panda sidekick Nobby, played with considerable awareness of physical comedy by Joanna Meiklejohn.

Lynn Cameron and Anne Mackenzie’s police officers Ping and Pong tread the fine line that separates knockabout comedy from the merely annoying with real skill, and manage to be both amusing and oddly sympathetic.

Graham Bell’s Abanazar is just the kind of panto baddie you want; throwing everything into the role and practically chewing the scenery, he is just evil enough to avoid actually terrifying the children in the audience.

effective contrast

Similar awareness of just how big to make your performance is shown by Mauro Costero’s Genie of the Lamp, which provides an effective contrast with Pat Johnson’s perfectly pitched, more grounded comic portrayal of the Genie of the Ring.

Lynn Cameron, Anne Mackenzie, Mags Swan, Derek Ward, Joanna Meiklejohn and Peter Morrison. Pic: Terry Railley

The chorus numbers are cleverly staged and well choreographed, never outstaying their welcome. MD Barrie Simcock and drummer Duncan Cark provide endlessly versatile and tuneful support. There are occasional sound issues that mean that song lyrics are not always audible, but the visual effect always makes up for this –one UV sequence is simply breathtaking.

Director Ward knows just how much use to make of the whole auditorium, with one chase sequence particularly impressive.

The worrying stereotypical faux-oriental settings and characterisations that were still cropping up in Aladdin surprisingly recently are thankfully absent, with the generic China/Egypt/Arabia locations being largely irrelevant for a panto that is clearly set in Edinburgh, with local jokes and references alongside audience participation.

EPT also still have that principal boy, a songsheet and sweetie throwing. All of which makes for a production that is definitely family-oriented and exemplifies much of what is enjoyable about traditional pantomime.

Running time 2 hours 40 minutes (including one interval)
Church Hill Theatre, 33 Morningside Road, EH10, 4DR
Friday 13 – Saturday 21 December 2019
Tues – Fri: 7pm; Sat 14: 11am & 3.30pm; Sun 15 & Sat 21: 2.30pm.
Tickets and details: Book here.

Lynsey Spence, Carol Bryce and company. Pic: Terry Railley


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