BWW Reviews: ALADDIN, New Wimbledon Theatre, December 9 2013
If Wimbledon's 2013 pantomime forgoes the Hollywood glitz of recent editions starring the likes of David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson, it more than makes up for it with some old-fashioned Christmas glitter - and the distinctly unglitzy, unHollywood, Jo Brand. If her television recognition power is sufficient to put her name at the top of the bill, her sardonic one-liner laden, one-woman Greek Chorus act is plenty enough to justify the marketing, especially once she settles into the evening in what is - believe it or not - her first outing in Pantoland.
So, the star has delivered the cameo - what about the rest? Writer Eric Potts doesn't give his Aladdin much to do, but Oliver Thornton makes a credible hero - and avoids falling off his magic carpet - looking the part with his sweetheart Princess Jasmine (Claire-Marie Hall). Alan Committie's Wishee Washee is played mainly for the kids, but the South African comic gets in a few asides and ad libs for the grown-ups too - enough to show that he knows his British panto. Reality TV stars singer Shaheen Jafargholi and streetdance troupe Flawless get plenty of screams from the teens and (fortunately) don't spend too much time obstructing the plot.
Ah, the plot. That's mainly carried by old hands, Matthew Kelly (a charismatic and genuinely funny Widow Twankey) and David Bedella (a picture-perfect villainous Abanazar). Both are excellent and provide the strong anchoring that a show coming in at two and a half hours needs.
Of course, pantos need to pull in audiences more used to television and cinema than a night in a theatre and, if that leads to a slightly annoying set of big screens adverts and promos prior to curtain-up, it also leads to director Ian Talbot making the sets look glorious in technicolor hues and his Dame don ever more garish outfits. It's a long show, but you never catch yourself wondering where to look on the packed stage nor pondering when the next laugh will arrive. For all its 21st century vibe and the giggles for references to London landmarks and soapstars, the audience enjoyed a couple of old panto standbys most - a beautifully delivered patter routine from Messrs Kelly, Committie and Thornton and fine slapstick rendition of "If I were not upon this stage...". The old ones really are the best.
So, a slightly different approach for Wimbledon's biggest show of the year, but just as successful as any in the theatre's long history of good ol' pantos. As ever, worth a trip down the District Line - if you've no magic carpet of course.