Aladdin: A Wish Come True, O2 Theatre, London
Paul O’Grady’s alter-ego Lily Savage as Widow Twankey was exuberant
Arifa Akbar is literary editor of The Independent and i newspapers. She has worked at The Independent since 2001 as a news reporter and arts correspondent before joining the books desk in 2009. She was a judge for the Orwell Prize for books, 2013, and is currently a judge of the Fiction Uncovered Prize 2014, and the Independent Scholastic New Children's Prize 2014.
Monday 17 December 2012
There was just one problem with this supremely entertaining pantomime and it persisted right until the end, no matter how witty the script, how exuberant the musical performances and how charismatic Paul O’Grady’s alter-ego, Lily Savage, as Widow Twankey. It was the cold draft in the O2’s pop-up theatre and as problems go, it was no trifling matter given London’s recent sub-zero temperatures.
While the sets got sparklier, the costumes spanglier and the special effects more spectacular – the flying carpet scene was a magical sight to behold - the audience shivered in their hats and coats and rushed towards the weak fan heaters on the sides of the tent-like theatre in the intermission. It wasn’t just the audience that suffered. “You think you’re cold?” O’Grady quipped at the audience, heroically incorporating his sniffles into the show.
It seemed like a crime against a near-perfect pantomime to have something as prosaic as the temperature marring it. In the finest tradition of ‘crossover’ entertainment, Aladdin was perfectly tailored children’s entertainment that didn’t sacrifice any of its adult wit and arch intelligence.
Lily Savage provided much of the latter. Sashaying onto the stage as a woman come down in the world, seeing to other people’s dirty laundry in an ‘Old Peking’ laundrette, she embarked on a mini stand-up routine, sniping about ‘that’ café down the road that was so good at tax avoidance, and later, of Boris Johnson’s underpants and “chillaxing”.
When Aladdin came on stage and promptly followed pantomime protocol by saying “Oh no you don’t”, encouraging the audience to join in, Lily Savage rolled her eyes. “Do we have to go through this?” she said, before conceding “Oh yes I do.”
While Jon Lee – a member of the former pop band, S Club 7 - played the lead role straight, with no hint of knowingness, the strength of his performance lay in his singing voice.
The show was produced by Michael Rose Limited, (responsible for Oliver! and Jesus Christ Superstar) and it had the distinct air of musical theatre, helped by the live orchestra and some stand-out supporting performances including that of Issy van Randwyck’s as the limelight-grabbing genie.
Panto tropes were still there - the comic grotesques, the audience participation – but in gentle, and genteel, forms. The venue stayed cold but by the end, the ratio of pleasure and pain had tipped in the show’s favour. Even numbed feet couldn’t take away from its verve.
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