The thing about Panto is not to over-think it. It’s about having fun and surrendering to the Christmas spirit. Like Christmas crackers, there is a shared cultural expectation of a certain amount of cheesiness in the jokes but, also like Christmas crackers, the spectrum of packaging and goodies can run from urbane to classic; luxury to basic; highly ribald to safely juvenile. The Lyric Hammersmith’s production of Aladdin, written by Vikki Stone and directed by Abigail Graham, proudly owns its (west) London identity and sets itself firmly in the here and now. With stunning production design and playful musical numbers based on current hits (and a few classics), this pacey and light-hearted rendition faithfully conveys the panto tradition whilst holding the attention of the discerning upper-primary-schooler and early teen palate, as well as offers some pleasing notes and true guffaws to the grown-ups who buy the tickets.
My 9-year-old co-critic noted, “The Aladdin pantomime is a fun, groovy, panto about the story from One Thousand and One Arabian Nights. It’s not based on the Disney movie.” Indeed, for a top tier London theatre to stage a show by the same name, it’s important not to live in the shadow of the House of Mouse. Graham’s production succeeds in setting out its own purely panto terms and meets them handsomely.
The opening number, ‘We’re doing Panto’ (set to the tune of Blur’s ‘Parklife’) nicely tells us the rules of the game whilst introducing the world in which we’ll exist for the next two hours. This production has a comic-book-loving Princess Jasmin (Ellena Vincent) encounter a track-suit-wearing Aladdin (Qasim Mahmood) – who will quickly learn the perils of stereotyping girls – whilst occupying a combined launderette and micro-brewery run by a gilded Lizzo-belting Twankey (Stephan Boyce). Modern life is mocked gently with a few recognisable barbs left for the inept Emperor (“Dan Hackie-Eton”) as he stands behind his ‘Thumbs-Bums-Tums’ labelled podium in the imperial press briefing room and is manipulated by the malevolent Abanazer (Irvine Iqbal).
Theatrical veteran Iqbal deliciously chews the scenery in classic panto villain style and adds just the right energy and levels of mirth to a crowd-pleasing performance, whilst giving an anchor to less experienced cast members. After all, panto is one of the great gateways in British theatre – for audience and actors alike – and the Lyric affords similar apprenticeship to its ensemble through its Panto Bootcamp. Few roles in panto are designed to show off subtlety but rather showcase timing, voice and charisma. Vincent (who performed in the West End production of Hamilton) revealed a voice of pitch-perfect power that rather blew me away. With a three-piece live musical accompaniment led by Adam Gerber, as well as backing tracks for more elaborate numbers, the overall musical quality of this show is considerably higher than regional or fringe panto whilst priced lower than West End musicals. Mahmood’s voice isn’t as strong as his co-star’s, but he acquits the role amiably. My 9-year-old co-critic wanted me to point out that Gracie McGonigal, who plays Aladdin’s sister Wishy, is disabled and that he thinks, “other disabled people would like to see someone like them on stage”. McGonigal has a big in-front-of-the-curtain original song (‘If Wishy Was Wishing’) which she belts out beautifully, adding further heft to the female voices in this production, whilst serving somewhat as the moral compass for Aladdin’s journey into the complexities of wish fulfilment.
Lily Arnold’s set design is one of the stars of this show. From the gilded cave where we encounter Genie (Kate Donnachie) to the Jean-Michel Basquiat-crowned chamber, to the layers of painted curtains that enable one impressive set after another to appear without slowing down the pace, this production’s structural elements manage to be both visually and artistically impressive and panto-charming at the same time. You will not be remotely disappointed by the flying carpet scene which shows off an array of creative skills including Sally Ferguson’s lighting design.
True to the panto tradition with heaps of modernity, I found this production of Aladdin delightful. My 9-year-old co-critic stamps it with a full-throated 5-star-rating. I might demur slightly but perhaps that would be to overthink it. This is a fabulous way to kick-off your Crimbo-themed family fun!
Review by Mary Beer
This Christmas, all of your wishes shall be granted and you’ll be sat with your loved ones singing ‘Glory, Glory, Hammersmith’ once again.
Oh yes you will!
Join Aladdin, the Genie and their friends and go on a magical carpet ride.
This festive family adventure follows Aladdin on his quest to seek his fortune and find true love.
Expect the usual Lyric twist on all of your favourite characters as well as live music, magic lamps and plenty of laughs.
Starring Qasim Mahmood as Aladdin, Stephan Boyce as Dave Twankey, Kate Donnachie as Genie, Irvine Iqbal as Abanazer, Gracie McGonigal as Wishy and Ellena Vincent as Jasmine. The cast is completed by the Lyric Panto Ensemble of inspiring young West London talent: Caroline Adebayo, Harry Drane, Kane Feagan and Carla-Jean Lares.
Lyric Hammersmith Theatre presents
Written by Vikki Stone
Directed by Abigail Graham
Set Design by Lily Arnold
Costume Design by Kinnetia Isidore
Lighting by Sally Ferguson
Composed and Arrangements by Corin Buckeridge
Sound Design by Nick Manning
Choreography by Chi-San Howard
Musical Direction by Adam Gerber
Casting by Harry Blumenau
Lyric Hammersmith Theatre
Lyric Square, King Street, London, W6 0QL
19 Nov 2021 – 02 Jan 2022