REVIEW

Aladdin

Stephen Hayter reviews Aladdin

Aladdin
by Chris Shinn
performed by Waterbeach Community Players
directed by Holly Collas and Phil Law

Pantomime, pantomime, pantomime .... How I love you - and how I hate you! Everyone thinks they can write one - and they canít. Everyone thinks know how to perform one - and they donít, and everyone thinks itís a just a bit of fun ... and It really isnít! In my (very humble) opinion, they are the most difficult to write, complicated to perform and whilst you can have fun in the process, if you want a quality product you must contend with some or all the following:

1) Itís always a B list cast ('properí actors donít do Panto and others wonít give up any part of their Christmas)
2) Illness (Everyone is ill all the time, so no-one can make rehearsals)
3) No-one can ever make rehearsals! (Christmas donít you know)
4) A script you bought in that contains no jokes and runs two hours 40 with the interval to which you have added 27 songs.
5) No-one learns their lines ('itís just panto and Iíll wing ití)

In short, you would be much better just going for 'Blythe Spirití .... again! As someone who has seen his fair share of train-wreck pantoís and (watched amazed as one of his own hit the deck) I know why they go wrong and I do try to share some of that knowledge. But, every year ......!

With all of that said, I left home full of the joys of winter as the delightful Julie Petrucci had invited me, once again, (they obviously donít hate me too much after my last review) to sub for her at the Waterbeach Community School for the Waterbeach Community Players (soon to be rebranded I read) 2018 production of 'Aladdiní. I parked the car and then got caught in the most torrential rain/hail shower combined with a force 10 gale, I arrived some 50 paces later looking a lot less than the elegant gentleman who had left home earlier in the evening. I mention this only so as you know that I was not in the best frame of mind as I took my seat with a soaking wet overcoat on my lap!

It may sound like a rambling/ranting first paragraph ... but the relevance will become clear as I progress. The stage at the Waterbeach School does have practical limitations (I have seen backstage) but I think it is perfect for plays and panto! It has sort of Art Deco look to it which is so appropriate for this genre. The scenery (design uncredited but construction managed by Chris Shinn and Mark Easterfield with execution not credited.... but I guess anyone who could use a cordless screwdriver!) was just perfect. Not too much, but enough to use well the available space without depriving the cast of sufficient room for singing, dancing and silliness. In addition, the bright paintwork (scenic artistry by Jane Boden) just lifted the whole set (and by default) the whole production up to a higher level. Lighting (technical direction by Mark Easterfield with operation by Jason Docwra) was everything it needed to be and Sound (operation by Holly Collas) very much the same. Costumes (Wardrobe Mistress Joy Sinclair assisted by Sandy Peters) were excellent with the Dameís frocks particularly spectacular! Hair and make-up (Sue Barnes) were fine and dandy and incidental props (Julie Petrucci and Jane Boden) causing me no offence whatsoever. A special (very special) shout out for the UV lighting magic carpet ride scene (devised by Rosie Wells). I have seen this done countless times and five small girls (itís always girls) in black, holding painted things is very nice. This however was on a whole other level. I didnít waste any time watching the flying carpet. I was using all my effort to try and see the people holding the flying carpet and do you know what... I absolutely couldnít. I caught one black arm move (I think) and that was it. The crŤme de la crŤme of UV without any doubt!

The cast was big in this production which made the selection, installation and location of the scenery important to get them all on. The chorus (rather too numerous to mention) were enthusiastic and well-drilled. With reference to earlier comments above, it was beyond delightful to see accomplished lead performers from previous productions (Christine Easterfield for one) bulking out the chorus. This never happens! Choreography (Rosie Wells) was perfectly suited to the size, ability and space restrictions of the chorus, and worked well.

In the supporting roles Marina Besser and Roxanna Harmer were enchanting as Little Aladdin and the Little Princess with Choreographer, Rosie Wells in fine form as martial arts mentor Kung Fu Fi Ting. I enjoyed Emily Rutherford as Lo See Ling and Summer Kelly as No Par Kin (thatís right ... Chris Shinn had left no pun unturned - a theme that perpetuated throughout this script !!!!!) Thomas Pikett got way more than his fair share of laughs as The Vizier. With a great line in classic British camp. Daisy Gill and Paul Lockwood worked hard as the Sultana and Sultan with Vicky Butt delivering a fantastic performance as the Genie of the Ring. The amount of sugar, caffeine, Red Bull and Berocca she must have injested to create this character was well worth the sacrifice. A genie...but on a good day!!!!!!! Dave Morris was the perfect antidote, as the rather sullen Genie of the Lamp, with a lovely line in downbeat deliveries.

In the more prominent roles, Chip Colquhoun (not at all a soya based snack as I had thought) was excellent as dull-witted Wishee Washee with Andrea Birdwood putting in a good shift as the lovely Princess Jasmine. Kattreya Scheurer-Smith was superb as out hero, Aladdin. A beautiful girl of indiscernible age with the longest principal boy legs I personally have ever seen. A good singing voice but (unusually for a panto romantic lead) an interesting personality and ... an expressive face and an accomplished comic delivery! Being so darned likeable really helped sell the whole story.

There is something else connected with pantomime I didnít mention earlier. Every man over the age of 20 thinks he can do the Villain and/or Dame. It is a lot more difficult than you think and, as Abanazar (the evil Uncle), Gareth Atkinson was truly remarkable. A sure-footed delivery without even the suggestion that he might forget or stumble over a single syllable of his script. He elected to dominate the audience rather that trade with them which I though was perfectly in keeping with the tenure of the script. I got a chance to speak to him afterwards and just had to tell him how very, very good his performance was.

In any normal NODA review Mr Atkinson would have been a contender for penultimate paragraph honours. This paragraph (you will recall) is where I wax lyrical about the person who has (in my opinion) had the biggest impact on the production. It is always conveniently located so the more egotistical of the Am- Dram community can go straight to it without wasting time reading about other cast members. On this occasion there was only ever one person in the frame and they quite simply stole the show. I could easily go on for 200 words about just what an amazing Dame Chris Shinn was (is), but I have already written way too much. The best Dame I have ever seen, with an effortless, addictively endearing characterisation that you could take to the Palladium. There may have been other people on the stage with him from time to time ... I have no idea. When he came on I was completely transfixed. The Great Petrucci said afterwards, and I quote "I think he is one of the best ... but I am biased" well JP... biased or not your analysis is completely correct!

It says a lot about any production that I had forgotten how very wet my legs were within three scenes and, with Dry January weighing heavily, the lack of a bar could not even dampen my spirits (....no Chris that was unintentional!) My unreserved compliments to directors, Holly Collas and Phil Law for a tidy piece of theatre, and with this being opening night and all, the cast (with only one or maybe two exceptions) were very much on top of their lines, songs and moves. The technical direction was difficult to fault and it all hung together very nicely. Music came by way of a three-piece combo Sarah Deboys on the piano, Simon Wombwell on guitar and Phil Law on drums, for a job well done. The random (but appropriate) song selections were turned into an impressive overture and I felt compelled to congratulate Musical Director Mrs Deboys for achieving a seamless segue. So, to address my opening remarks and show anyone who bothers to read this how not to mess up a panto:

1) This was an A list cast through all the principle parts (double D in the case of Widow Twankey) with some accomplished performers bolstering the Chorus.
2) Even if there had been illness (there is always illness) I couldnít tell!
3) There was no doubt that enough people had attended enough rehearsals to pull this off.
4) The script (Chris Shinn) had plenty of gags both written and visual with the "cleaning products from a box scene" worth the ticket price on its own!
5) As previously mentioned, with only a couple of exceptions (and not amongst the principal cast) this crew were very much on top of every line!

Thank you for asking me JP, and thank you Waterbeach for restoring my faith in Panto. I left the hall thinking ... do you know what, maybe its time I put on another pantomime! Oh yes, I did!

Stephen P. E. Hayter.
(District Representative - NODA Eastern Region - District 4 North)