Review: Aladdin at South Hill Park
Can an old lamp prevent a royal scandal? *Asking for a friend*. No dirty laundry aired here, Aladdin in Bracknell is bubblier than Widow Twankey's hot wash.
Hot-off-the-panto press, my verdict on Aladdin at South Hill Park in Bracknell, starring, well, no one famous, but an incredibly talented bunch of actors who bring this thoroughly modern Aladdin to life. To put it succinctly, I think you’ll love it. It’s fun, funky and festively fab-u-lous. Oh, you want more? Sashay this way.
Writer Joyce Branagh, a former Reading girl and the sister of über-thesp Kenneth, has written a new, original script for South Hill Park that has all the traditional hallmarks of this classic story but with a 21st Century reboot. We follow the story of Aladdin who fancies the pants off of Peking’s Princess Jasmine, but is too poor to get a look in (I suffered the same problem with Prince Harry *sob*). The promise of riches in return for an old lamp, sees our hero tricked by the devilishly handsome Abanazar – cue evil laughter, singing, dancing and cheesy innuendo.
Jake Watkins’ Aladdin is more boy bander than leading man having ditched the MC Hammer pants and fez for a pair of skinny jeans and sleeveless leather jacket. He’s a phenomenal dancer and has a decent singing voice. His female co-star, Faye Ellen’s Princess Jasmine is less insipid love interest and more fearless female lead in a bang-on-trend boiler suit who is confident, capable and totally kickass.
I really liked this fresh take. There’s always the danger you can suffer from panto fatigue – the same old jokes, same old set pieces and same old songs. It’s as feels as familiar as a pair of old Uggs, but not here. Many of the songs were pop hits, peppered with local references – Mark Ronson’s Uptown Funk, Sigala’s Just Got Paid; Aretha Franklin’s R.E.S.P.E.C.T and Peggy Lee’s I’m A Woman – bringing real energy to a story that’s a gazillion years old.
Meanwhile, Bracknell’s resident dame, Brad Clapson, was in danger of stealing the show every time he came on stage. As ever he was superb and brought sass and perfect panto patter as Widow Tallulah Tantric Twankey. Brad knows how to work it – the man’s got moves and shines brighter than a giant glitter ball.
Michael Ayiotis (last year’s Dick Whittington) plays bad boy Abanazar with a hint of Dr Evil. Not just a pretty face, he’s very funny and hams up the woo-ha-ha to great effect – his squeaky throne and hopeless sidekicks the cherry on top.
The big voices were provided by the wonderful Princess Jasmine (Faye Ellen), Gene Genie (Marnie Yule) and the Empress (Jacqueline Tate).
The traditional 12 Days of Christmas was replaced this year If I Weren’t In Panto… – a choreographic masterpiece that required perfect comic timing. One wrong or poorly timed move and it’ll hurt. I won’t spoil it for you, but it must have taken hours to get that one right.
What else to tell you? Well, the set was a work of art. We’ve come to expect great things from South Hill Park’s award-winning set designer, Victoria Spearling, and she has certainly pulled the stops out with an inventive, colourful design that seemlessly transforms from the neon glowing streets of Peking and Widow Twankey’s laundry to Abanazar’s gilded Egyptian palace.
If I was to be picky (hey, it’s my job to tell you the truth!), I’d have liked a bit more audience participation. Basically I just want some poor sod to be pulled onto the stage and humiliated for a bit.
Aladdin is a mahoosive Muddy panto pleaser – fun for the kids, a dash of sauce for the adults, and also at two and a half hours from beginning to end, not overlong for littlies on an evening. It’s a production I look forward to every year and, once again, they did not disappoint.