Review – Aladdin

Dec 24 2012 | By More

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Anne Mackenzie (Princess Baldrobadour), Gordon Braidwood (Abanazar), Sarah Armes (Aladdin), Will MacIver (Widow Twankey) in a publicity shot for EPT's 2012 pantomime, Aladdin.

Anne Mackenzie (Princess Baldrobadour), Gordon Braidwood (Abanazar), Sarah Armes (Aladdin), Will MacIver (Widow Twankey) in a publicity shot for EPT’s 2012 pantomime, Aladdin.

Church Hill Theatre
Review by Thom Dibdin

You are never far away from a song and a dance up at the Church Hill Theatre, where Edinburgh People’s Theatre have added a few good local twists to a recent Joe Graham script of Aladdin.

Which is as you would expect with direction and choreography from the Mandy Black. The dance troupe, from her own dance school, are well-drilled and always up for a tap routine or butterfly show-dance. And EPT’s big chorus are there to give it some vocal support.

Which is not to mention a magnificently choreographed dance of the seven veils from dame Widow Twankey. The backing medley, working from Right Said Fred’s I’m Too Sexy to Carly Rae Jepsen’s Call me Maybe, allows Will MacIver to begin to show his capabilities.

Thanks to Graham’s script – an off-the-peg number published in 2011 – this is a show which contains most of what you would expect in a pantomime. Unfortunately, Graham has a pedestrian attitude to the way they are all put together.

Lyzzie Dell delivers her doggerel couplets with calm clarity as the Spirit of the Ring – the narrator to all intents and purposes. It is not her fault that the couplets are lacking in the creation of narrative, and set the whole production up for such a ponderous exposition.

Pantomime traditionalists cheering to the rafters

Erin Kelly is strong pal to the audience as Wishee Washee, working up her “Hiya Wishee” call out – completely unfazed by any lacking on the audience’s part and able to work with them.

As Aladdin, Sarah Armers is a top-notch principal boy. She parades her pins in a way which will have pantomime traditionalists cheering to the rafters – and has sadly passed from the vernacular of the professional shows.

Graham refuses – refreshingly – to use racial stereotypes as the basis for his comedy, he still knows the benefit of a pair of wacky Chinese policemen.

And in Christine Dall’s Sergeant Pong and Gary Cain’s Constable Ping, the younger members of the audience have as energetic a pair of hapless pursuers of Wishee and Aladdin as they could have dreamed of. If it is pointless chasing around the stage that you want, then Pong and Ping are the path to panto paradise.

There is rather less to cheer of when it comes to the Royal household. Matthew Sielewicz-Stanhope has plenty of material to work with as Emperor Ming – and a long narrative about dirty washing. But he fails to work up any of the rapport with MacIver’s Widow Twankey that is needed to lift the comedy.

Anne Mackenzie (Princess Baldrobadour), and Sarah Armes (Aladdin),  in a publicity shot for EPT's 2012 pantomime, Aladdin.

Anne Mackenzie (Princess Baldrobadour), and Sarah Armes (Aladdin), in a publicity shot for EPT’s 2012 pantomime, Aladdin.

The casting of Anne Mackenzie as Princess Baldroubadour is not the kindest. At least she has Kirsty Boyle to look after her, as royal guard and martial arts specialist, Lotusblossum. Boyle might not have much to do, but she knows that in pantomime the trick is to do it big and bold, as she lashes across the stage making it large with the karate kicks.

Gordon Braidwood has no such veil to hide behind as wicked Abanazer who is the weakest aspect of Graham’s script. There are plenty of boos and hisses to come, but as an audience member it feels like terribly hard work making sure that they do so in the right place.

This is a long show, and it often feels it, with too much standing around waiting for things to happen. Which is not all Mandy Black’s fault.

Joe Graham is best known for amateur company favourite A Fistful of Mondays – which toured in a professional version as Rhinestone Mondays.

And his Aladdin certainly has some good comic lines, there is plenty of space for weaving in local references and even some very entertaining additions to the classic plot – a hilarious pantomime camel is particularly good.

That said, he fails to show a good understanding of the way in which pantomime works. There’s no sense of an unbridled dynamic to it, no push to introduce the characters and get the show going in its tussle between good and evil. There are huge holes in the narrative of audience interaction – which the audience fill themselves, but which would work so much better if led from the stage.

Pantomime needs to be big and brash. There is no such thing as over-acting, no place for apologetic performances. It’s simple: get on, get aquatinted, establish your trademark and get going with the plot.

Instead of this basic and easy to follow formula, Graham seems to think he is writing theatre, and the script suckers too many of EPT’s regulars into that way of thinking.

A fun night out, but it does feel like hard work.

Run ends Sun 30
Running time 2 hours 50 mins

Evening performances at 7.00pm: Fri 21/Sat 22, Thurs 27-Sat 29.
Matinee performances at 2.30pm: Sat 22/Sun 23, Sat 29/Sun 30.

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