Anyone who frequents Pantomime knows what to expect when they enter; a rough template of a story filled with fun gags, large choral songs and, of course, audience participation. However, the Shrewsbury pantomime of Aladdin at Theatre Severn exceeded these typical conventions and brought an even more energetic, fulfilling and wholesome performance to be enjoyed by fatigued parents as well as ecstatic children.
The story itself doesn't meander too much from the conventional plot, with a few very notable exceptions, and it manages to tell a simple tale in a tone that a young audience can pick up on and enjoy. From the get go, the audience was considered part of the cast- being asked to call certain names when a character came on, give a tactical use of our dramatic irony when the protagonist was faced with danger and of course chant the line synonymous with pantomimes worldwide "He's behind you!"
The set itself was very impressive. Golden spires signified lavish lifestyles and chic backstreets worked as an effective location for the majority of the first act. Scenes transitioned in and out of each other like butter, with flawless actions performed by backstage crew and simple misdirection used by the performers to give an illusion of change. It's also worth noting that around the stage there were 9 large rectangular lights that changed depending on the scene, I personally found these a very nice touch and thought they blended really well with the visual style while providing some extra eyesight excitement.
As usual, there were some incredible set pieces. This year the group really took advantage of the ropes system in the theatre and had a functioning magic carpet (something that is bound to blow a young child's mind) and two wonderfully designed elephant automations that left me in awe of their Disney-like splendor.
The costumes were designed exceptionally, in a post show conversation with Brad Fitt (who plays the dame and also directs the performance) he told us that he has 12 costumes spanning the whole show: 4 of which were casually stripped off in a frankly ridiculous scene to Tom Jones' "Leave your hat on".
The rhythm section within the band created a sense of excitement when needed- with pounding toms and punchy snares keeping the dances in time. The lone guitarist had some very notable parts that really helped set the tone within the Chinese setting. The keyboard and tones selected were of very high quality, some of the electric pianos had my ears standing up due to their noticeable and ear catching sound.
The actors themselves did a great job on the whole. Aladdin's innocence and curiosity was very well captured by Harry Winchester and comedian and performer Dave Bibby did well to match as his quirky, audience interacting brother. The upper class splendour of Princess Jasmine and The Emperor, respectively played by Victoria McCabe and long running Panto legend Eric Smith, was delightfully captured by both the actors' performances and the majestic costumes they wore. The "villainous" Abanazar was played with terrifying gusto by Philip Stewart. His antagonistic actions came across really well, complimented by the minimal lighting and ominous sound design for his sequences. Both genies (Anelisa Lamola and Kate Malyon) had the audience under the impression that they truly were magical and had great chemistry with each other, there was never a dull moment between these two. The dainty local policeman PC Pongo played by Dec Moran was a brilliant comic relief and a strong glue for the performance. And finally, Brad Fitt as Widow Twankey showed his masterful skills in what I believe to be one of his strongest performances to date. The way he slipped partial innuendos into his performance and kept his dame personality consistent really impressed me. Also, his skills as a director shone through in every scene with characters knowing exactly where to go and when.
Pantomime is hard to review. It's not exactly an art form that you can be as critical of due to it's comedic and self aware nature. And while I may not be the biggest fan of performances like this, it's not hard to see the amount of work and dedication put into making an audience smile. While I sat with my friends and watched this performance, I had a warm feeling of familiarity and home. There were some young children sat a few rows in front of me who looked like they were having the time of their lives, dancing to every song, crying when the Hero got hurt, laughing when he got back up again. That's what the true spectacle of this performance was- the pure joy felt by both the audience and the performers. If you're near Shrewsbury and are looking for a fun evening with the family, give this show a shot, it's wise cracks and visual wonders will likely leave you smiling hours after the show has finished.
Aladdin: The Pantomime
Theatre Severn Shrewsbury
Review date: 6/12/2019