Simon Callow: Like Olivier, I am revisiting a classic role

Share

I last played the role of Abanazar 32 years ago. It was my first and until this year my last attempt at pantomime, but it is a truth universally acknowledged that one should always come back to the great classical roles and I was delighted that someone thought to ask me.

Olivier's failure as Macbeth in 1937 was redeemed by his success in the same part in 1955, his early Coriolanus reprised triumphantly 20 years later. My first Abanazar, at Lincoln in 1973, was the wild stab of a 24-year-old, which, though not without a certain theatrical energy, lacked the fuller understanding of evil which, sadly, the years have brought. I used, all those years ago, to manage to reduce the odd child to tears of terror; now, with any luck, it'll be the entire audience.

The characters of pantomime are pure archetypes and Abanazar is a particularly unnerving one: the rich stranger who pretends to be the boyish hero's kindly and long-lost uncle, who seduces the boy's mother and then forces him to descend into a dank and terrifying cave to procure the means by which he will dominate the world and enthrone evil.

Everyone in the audience, men, women, and most of all children, should be genuinely disturbed by the wicked sorcerer's designs on the lad.

What is especially enjoyable in playing the part is that the world which Abanazar seeks so diabolically to subvert is one of total mayhem: Aladdin's mother is a large man, Aladdin himself is often a leggy girl, Aladdin's brother a tongue-twisting twit, the Genie disobedient and lippy.

Although Abanazar is able to inspire the audience to fear, no one on stage seems to have any sense of danger, no matter how often the audience tells them that he's behind them, or begs them not to hand over the lamp. They live in a perpetually cheery never-never land where misfortune may get you down for a minute or two, but from which you will always be able to rise by simple dint of singing a jolly song or being given some homely encouragement by the Genie.

Simon Callow stars with Patsy Kensit and Christopher Biggins in 'Aladdin' at Richmond Theatre from 8 December to 22 January

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Dom Joly owns a pig. That thinks it's a dog.  

I'll bow out. Let Wilbur, the pig that thinks it's a dog, bring home the bacon

Dom Joly
 

Forget charging by the page - with books, heart matters more than heft

Katy Guest
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'