It’s once again pantomime season across Great Britain, a tradition of storytelling, loud colours, songs and crude jokes that is loved up and down the country. In a time of Brexit it is nice to be reminded of one of the things that makes being British great. It’s been a long time since I saw my last professional pantomime, and this was my first time attending one in Norwich. Whilst I wasn’t disappointed by any means, I wouldn’t say I was taken back to my childhood; I think I was laughing at a different sort of joke this time around.
This years pantomime tells the story of Aladdin, a laundrette owner’s son who dreams of kingship and true love. When a beautiful young lady turns up looking for a panda, he follows his heart (or perhaps another part of his body) down a road of adventure, danger and mystery. Aladdin (Steve Roberts) is kind, good hearted and foolishly courageous as any hero should be. Although the lead, Roberts was not the star of the show, as with any good panto this role is reserved for the Dame. The lovely Widow Twankey’s (Richard Gauntlett) duo with her on stage son Wishee Washee (Ben Langley) was spot on, entertaining all the family with many “head in the gutter”- adult jokes that went way over all the children’s heads. There wasn’t a quiet moment in the audience when these two were on stage.
Don’t expect any of the classic Aladdin songs; instead, you should enjoy exclamations of recognition from the audience as some more recent hits get re-worded for the show. The show was visually spectacular, displaying an astonishing number of brightly painted sets and fabulous costumes, and the production team did a wonderful job with pyrotechnics, strobe lighting and impressive rigging. Although there were some microphone issues that meant one or two songs fell slightly flat, hopefully these will be resolved as the cast and crew get into their run. However, the actors coped perfectly with it all, sometimes making me wonder if perhaps it wasn’t a mistake but rather a planned joke! One other issue was that the interval seemed to come very late, perhaps because Abanazar (Rik Makarem) started hinting about it fifteen minutes before it actually happened.
It was definitely a Norwich pantomime, so first year students may leave the theatre somewhat befuddled about a few of the geographical jokes – I never knew the Thetford desert was so big! But fear not: if you follow the local leads you’ll have loads of fun and you only need to have lived here a few months to know when to boo, cheer and laugh at local place names. And even if you are still confused, you will leave with your heart absolutely stolen by the impossibly adorable children from Central School who played the pandas.
Aladdin runs at the Norwich Theatre Royal from December 14 – January 13