BRAND MEETS BEDELLA – BUT IT’S FLAWLESS THAT’S FLAWLESS!
New lamps for old! It’s the motto of the best pantomimes : keep the shape of the old lamp – vaudeville routines, spectacle, low comedy and sweet song, comedy knickers – but fire up the old lamp with something as new as hip-hop and LEDs. Cherish the old solid-brass professionals but rub celebrity agents until they conjure up star names. Thus your improbable lamp will shine.
It surely does in this rip-roaring Aladdin, written by Eric Potts and directed by Ian Talbot. Above the title Jo Brand is Genie of the Ring, in possibly the most ornately blingtastic outfit she has ever worn. Her trademark sarcasm is written in, but the standup career is evident in that she’s happiest when the fourth wall is down and she can berate the audience and tell jokes. The kids loved the one about the French cat.
But alongside her towers Matthew Kelly, a Dame of long experience and many costumes (a giant Pot Noodle, a Scotch airer covered in drying pants as a hooped skirt). And as Abanazar there’s David Bedella, so memorable as Jerry Springer’s Satan, with his marvellous grainy bass and wo-hoa-hoa laugh of evil. But then add groovy Britains-got-talent celebrs: Shaheen Jhafargholi – who sang at Michael Jackson’s memorial – is a bluesy rather beautiful Lamp Genie. And even better, deserving the wildest cheers of all, the, joyfully acrobatic street-dance group Flawless.
Backflips, handstands, head-twirling hip-hop genius, at one point in pitch dark with suits of lights. It’s breathtaking and street-smart, but sewn cheerfully into the old patchwork. Their first appearance indeed is as the Peking Police Force under the leadership of Matthew Rixon as a wholly traditional comic policeman (it could be 1935), and one of the best jokes is Brand being told “you only like hip-hop because it’s only two letters away from chip shop”.
You see what I mean? Modern panto melds together the shock of the new with Victorian staples – daft puns, physical jokes (in the laundry the copper goes brilliantly through the mangle,and shrinks). It has prancing nippers from the Doris Holford School of Dance and a traditionally pretty and melodious pair of leads, Oliver Thornton and Claire-Marie Hall, and dutifully picks up the annual top jokes (last year it was gangnam, this year twerking and the Gravity movie). It dares to flash, briefly, a bare bum, but an entr’acte cross-talk act and a canting song come straight from music-hall. It greatly relishes insults (“I’m pushing forty!” “Dragging it, more like” ).
And it’s beautiful. Wimbledon always goes nuts on costumes, but in backdrops too Old Peking is a sepia-gold dream of parasols and pagodas, the Palace a blue-and-silver elegance, the cave green-and-grey with a living gesticulating carpet. The finale melts all the colours together round a willowpattern plate. For all the larks and jokes, the children will have been taking in that aesthetic, too.
box office 0844 8717 646 to 12 jan