It's that rare time one might welcome some product placement – would Pamela Anderson, we wondered, be wearing some of her "cruelty-free lingerie" as the genie of Aladdin's lamp? As it turns out, no, but, even in a modest bathing costume and what seems to be a satin chilli pepper on her head, she is a vision indeed as she is lowered from the flies on a surfboard, Hollywood smile beaming and toothpick legs dangling.
Anderson is up to the demands of the role – cheerleader enthusiasm, harem-girl submissiveness, and a bit of pouting – though she does not always throw the right switch. Revealing the wonders of the cave, her "Behold!" sounds distinctly blasé. Anderson cheerfully adapts to our traditional art form, wriggling and jiggling and gently sending herself up: when Brian Blessed's Abanazar orders her to praise him, she sighs and says, "All right, you're the best drummer in the world."
Disappointingly, however, she does not have a proper confrontation with our own larger-than-life star. Draped in a fuchsia hippie blanket, a small hassock on his head, his supposed fierceness constantly undercut by his open-mouthed joy at being booed, Blessed is genial and cosy, a slack and shambling villain. One waits in hope that his snarls will turn to lubricious insinuations, or that he will be, like the rest of the male cast, mesmerised by Anderson's bouncing beach balls. But, when Blessed finally gets his hands on the lamp, gloating, "She's all mine!", Anderson quickly shrugs him off and skitters away on her Vivienne Westwood platforms.
For the most part, Ian Talbot's production is pleasantly traditional, with lively, pretty children and chorus girls, nicely quaint scenery, jeers at inferior south London neighbourhoods, lots of good old jokes and fairly painless new ones – none of which, tactfully, allude to the genie's past or physique. But, apart from a Cole Porter song (will we ever see his version of Aladdin, the last show he wrote?) and a slapstick comic number, the music is the usual raucous pop stuff and the dances perfunctory, lessening the viewer's engagement rather than enhancing mood or story. Panto may not be Rodgers and Hart, or even Andrew Lloyd Webber, but why discard 80 years of musical-comedy history? Jonathan D Ellis's Widow Twankey wears a series of stunning outfits – the citrus-festival one is particularly noteworthy, and the bolero of Marigolds very smart – but his delivery lacks the energy he brings to his high-kicking routines, and his randy, seen-it-all drag-queen persona is tedious and trite. It will be redundant as well when Paul O'Grady takes over the genie role (other replacements are Ruby Wax and Anita Dobson). Paul Thornley, by contrast, has the right sort of panto vim as Aladdin's dim-but-willing brother, Wishee Washee. Talbot's urbane Emperor of China is a droll character – but why no comedy song for him and the widow? Their tête-à-tête near the end seems to call for a middle-aged comic-romantic duet. Ashley Day's Aladdin is blank and boring, Leila Benn Harris's princess frumpy and boring.
The best thing about the show is its secondary spirit, Djalenga Scott, as the slave of the ring. Lithe and fetching, with a mysterious East European accent and a manner that is at once sexy and a detached tease of sexiness, she lights up the stage every time she comes on. And when she goes into action, you can tell that, like the girl in "Kansas City", everything she has is absolutely real.
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