BWW Review: ALADDIN AND THE FEAST OF WONDERS, The Vaults
It's very much that time of year again; high street shops are already tormenting staff and shoppers alike with 'festive' songs, mince pies have been on sale for months and pantomimes are starting to surface.
The Vaults is not the place to see a conventional pantomime and expectations of an 'alternative' panto are more than fulfilled with their festive offering Aladdin And The Feast Of Wonders; a very adult take on a story inspired by Aladdin and the Arabian Nights.
Following the death of the emperor, Princess Jizzmine (not a typo) needs to choose a suitor by midnight in order to take the throne. Gathering at Widow Hankey's magic launderette, in the audience are the citizens chosen to woo the Princess, some of whom have to audition for her love. They have to compete with Aladdin, who has already charmed the Princess, even though he is a lowly commoner.
The story is not the strongest part of the evening; the concept of the magic lamp is fairly overlooked; don't expect a genie or magic carpet. However, with a cast of cabaret performers and drag kings and queens, you can expect a mood that is outrageous and filthy.
There is a good reason why the age guidance is 18+ for this show. It is also one of those immersive shows where there is a large amount of audience participation. From mini-talent shows to sashaying along a catwalk to charm the Princess, the games are fun and light-hearted, but, as ever, the success of these sections does depend on the enthusiasm of those picked.
The cast is a bundle of energy, never dropping out of character and engaging in brilliantly inappropriate banter during the meal. Calum Tilbury, as a beautifully-bearded Widow Hanky, is a fantastic host for the show; sarcastic, playful and very funny. Janina Smith is a bold and cheeky Aladdin, slightly dim, with an impressive drawn-on six pack.
Written, directed and choreographed by ShayShay, this production is very different to traditional pantomime in many respects. Innuendo is nothing new in pantomime, but here it is at another level. The humour is clever and modern, lampooning pop culture and avoiding the usual clichés and targeting of minority groups; there are no dodgy Chinese accents or offensive cultural references here. This is a very inclusive production, even warning against dressing up in any way that suggests cultural appropriation.
Set design is by Darling & Edge, who have previously designed for the Gingerline projects and multiple productions at The Vaults. The result is a blast of neon lighting and suitably over-the-top costumes. Cheesy 90's pop anthems combine with modern cultural references for a very energetic evening. Britney Spears' 'Work Bitch' may well be a new panto anthem.
Food by long-time Vaults collaborators Pop Co is very inventive and tasty. Starting with Mamma's Noods, a stir-fried noodle dish with a heavily spiced broth of hot ginger and tart tamarind served in takeaway boxes and eaten surrounded by piles of washing.
It takes a little too long to move to the next room for the new location of the Sultan's Palace, where the banquet begins properly. A Romantic Vegetable is, rather predictably, a dish based on carrots. Unpredictably, these are roasted with coffee, with a spicy harissa yoghurt and coriander oil.
The theme of a banquet feast continues with large platters and ornate bowls of delicious beef tagine (jackfruit for vegetarians), spiced rice with salad, served with a pineapple and mint salsa.
Dessert of Princess Jizzmine's Milk (!) is a rose and cardamom mahalabia milk pudding topped with toasted pistachios and dried rose petals. Food is served quickly and is (mostly) hot. It is also fairly plentiful, which isn't always the case with this type of production.
Tickets start from £40, which is a relative bargain with the quality of food and entertainment on offer. It is loud, proud and an awful lot of fun.
Photo Credit: Mance and Co