BWW Review: ALADDIN, Royal and Derngate
For me, the best thing about panto is the stuff that's not in the script - we went every year when I was little, and my favourite memory is of the year that Brian Blessed's trousers split when he was playing Captain Hook and he and Smee had an extended fit of giggles.
It's been a long time since I went to a proper panto - a decade since my last trip (to Berwick Kaler in York) and even long since I went to a "celebrity" panto - and ahead of my trip to Aladdin, I was worried that things might have changed. No fear. The anarchy and ad-libs of panto are alive and well in Northampton.
The plot is - as always - a mad mix of the traditional story, Wishee Washee and her laundry and the Disney version. But to be frank, if you're going to nitpick the plot, you might as well stay home, because you're clearly not in the right frame of mind for panto.
The key thing about panto is how much the audience laugh and how much interaction there is, and this is a winner on that front. The main challenge for the cast is how they deal with the ad-libbing and slip-ups - and as this Aladdin is full of panto veterans, they rise to the challenge.
Kev Orkian steals the show as Wishee Washee - he has the children in the audience eating out of the palm of his hand, and the adults are not far behind. Darren Machin is having a ball as Widow Twankey and hoiks his bosom to fine effect at every available opportunity. His scenes with Dom Hartley-Harris's Emperor Ming are a hoot.
Sheila Ferguson and Paul Nicholas play off each other nicely as Scheherazade and Abanazar and Nicholas seems to revel in the boos. Union J's Jaymi Hensley makes an attractive Aladdin, and will no doubt bring in some teen girls, but he's not the motor that's driving the show - I spent some of the Aladdin and Jasmine scenes waiting for Wishee and Twankey to reappear to get things zipping along again.
All the traditional things are here: jokes about regional rivalries, slightly cringey attempts to be cool (this year's references include match.com, Snapchat and Slumdog Millionaire), birthday shoutouts, a singalong - and a set that looks like it's seen slightly better days. There were a few snags the night that I was there - glitchy microphones in the main - but it was all handled with flair by the cast.
It's not high art, but it is a fun night out. My top tip: sit at least halfway back if you want to stand a chance of avoiding Wishee Washee's water pistol...
Aladdin at Royal and Derngate until 31 January, 2018
Photo Credit: Graeme Braidwood