Winter Solstice in the UK today has arrived along with lots of blue sky. The Christmas Markets nearby are more fun with the milder weather so it is great to spend time gazing at the craft stalls and carousels.
I spent the night in a medieval Estate house, now a hotel, and got lucky enough to sleep in a room Henry VIII once stayed over in. My seasonal celebrations have not been complete without the perfect tradition of seeing a Pantomime which I describe below from my front row seat.
Darkness falls in the theatre as the audience wave wands and are shown magic through story and not light. Korky Paul’s iconic drawings form part of Liz Cooke’s bold cartoon-styled set with the city’s logo of an oxen crossing a ford on the proscenium arch. Everyone feels at home as shapes shift on stage. Over a white picket fence, the action moves between the Palace gardens to where the commoners live. The status quo is put into a spin by Abanazer who summons up spirits to help him find the source of all power. To become the master of all kingdoms he is told he needs a boy called Aladdin to fetch a hidden magic lamp.
‘Aladdin’ is a traditional pantomime so most folk have a sensational flashing device in their hands to defend the story from the darker forces of evil. Audience participation is heard over and over again as our hero Aladdin gets stuck in a cave along with the magic lamp he has been sent to fetch. Our cries of ‘Open Sesame’ are of no use because of Abanazer’s spell. The evil wizard spites Aladdin because of the boy’s curiosity in the rich jewels inside the dark cave.
Inspired by the Spirit of the Ring our shiny wands have been shaken for some time and even with this magic placed everywhere still the caves do not open to release our hero. Aladdin, played by the engaging Adam Samuel-Bal, has no way out until Widow Twankey (the versatile Nigel Betts) leads a heroic escape from the grips of the dark caves. The Dame connects us vividly to her vulnerability by running for her life in a glitzy bra. To celebrate the victory, the audience raises the roof with a dance to the popular songs from the Blues Brothers movie, played under the sharp musical direction of Scott Morgan.
A flying carpet takes off as the opinionated Princess Rose, played by the captivating Kiran Sonia Sawar, and Aladdin look through darkness down onto their complicated lives. it is hard to say what the heroes eyes perceive as back on solid ground the heart of the plot is set around the slapstick of the earthy Crispy Gusset launderette of Ox-a-For. Comical laundry is passed to and fro as Aladdin tries to keep hold of the lamp and Wishee Washee keeps everyone involved in the action. Every Pantomime breaks new ground and this year Wishee Washee, played by the energetic Nathan Bryon, is a lovable dog, leaping on stage to keep the action fresh and fun.
There is however the serious business of catching the treats at hand. I try to bend my flashing reindeer antlers to match the shape of Wishee Washee’s ears to bias the direction of sweets as they are catapulted off the back of a tennis racket. To be fair the hope of things turning out for the best is better embodied by the Spirit of the Ring, played by the enchanting Rochelle Rose who shines as the story weaves its way through the disingenuous events conjured up by Abanazar’s spells. The show teaches us that exploring darkness has its own rewards. The deepest cave gave Aladdin the brightest treasure and the show gives us mojo to embrace darkness with warmth.
With snow in the air, the naturalism of this big-hearted cast creates a fantastic fantasy world where a struggling pauper is inspired to take the hand of a beautiful Feminist Princess. Within this story the experienced Writer and Director Steve Marmion has filled the ample bosom of the Pantomime genre and dug deeply to deliver the sharpest script that entertains both young and old with relevant social commentary, witty topical asides and a Pee King Duck (Jessica Lee-Hopkins). This story of two unlikely lovers sharing a destiny first came to the stage in 1788, with an early performance of ‘Aladdin’ at Covent Garden originating from the ‘Arabian Nights’ story. Tonight the pure heart within this show makes the large theatre feel warm and if this dynamite version doesn’t pull your cracker then it’s time to rub that magic ring to summon up the same spirits Abanazer needed. Then again, that evil wizard (played by the vibrant Paul Barnhill) may have been onto something; as the lights go off in the theatre and the story is still in the air so there is gold within darkness after all.
Wishing you a wonderful Holiday. These are my favourite gatherings, described in the post, more can be found here. Enjoy whatever you are up to! Here’s to an awesome 2016.