A lad in a panto


Partly spurred on by Aphra Behn’s post on pantomime, and partly due to a cry of “I’m bored!” from one of my fellow house-dwellers/purchasers, I recently attended the Marlowe Theatre’s annual festive extravaganza, this year being the old favourite Aladdin.  Now, I knew going in that this wasn’t necessarily going to scratch all my panto itches.  The Marlowe doesn’t do the principal boy thing, as they tend to bring in a soap heartthrob to attract additional female audience members.  I tend to prefer amateur pantomimes anyway, as the leads are likely to have more stage experience than ‘Her off Big Brother’ or ‘Him off EastEnders’.  And my very favourite pantomime story is Mother Goose, though Aladdin is certainly acceptable.

The cast included Stephen Mulhern as Aladdin (him off children’s telly) and Shaun Williamson as Abanazar (him off EastEnders ages ago and Extras), but that was it for TV-star billing, and the two of them were not of the ‘so bad I wish I was dead’ variety of celebrity panto star.  Mulhern had an extremely busy time, as there was a distinct lack of Wishee Washee, meaning that he had to be both romantic lead and ‘audience friend’ (Buttons from Cinderella being the other famous example).  This must have been a tiring task, as it meant he had to win the girl and save the day, but also get the audience primed for the inevitable shouting, do the audience singalong and participate in the inevitable slapstick routines.  Poor chap.  I was full of admiration, and just a touch of jealousy!  He was jolly good, too, with a rather nice singing voice, bags and bags of charisma, more energy than anyone should have on the third performance of the day and a command of the stage.  Bravo!

Very, very funny indeed were comics Hilary O’Neil as Slave of the Ring and Lloyd Hollett as PC Pongo.  They may be terribly famous for all I know, but they weren’t known to me beforehand.  Both were brilliant in their roles and managed to get a cheer out of me at the curtain call.  On the other end of the scale was, sadly, the pantomime dame.  Dave Lee is always billed as a ‘local legend’, and does a lot of excellent work for children’s charities.  Sadly, though, I completely failed to find him in any way funny.  He did do the traditional thing of not even pretending to be female, but he still wasn’t funny to me.  It’s always disappointing when the dame doesn’t sparkle, but Widow Twanky was a big damp squib as far a I was concerned.

The panto did a good job in its arbitrary choice of songs.  Often, a song is chosen where the title fits the plot, but the actual mood or lyrics of the song are completely wrong.  This wasn’t the case here, as a section of ‘Defying Gravity’ (from the musical Wicked, brilliantly sung by Hilary O’Neil) actually fit Aladdin’s magic carpet ride from China to Egypt and enough liberties were taken with ‘Diamonds Are Forever’ to make it vaguely appropriate for its slot.  Snatches of Take That and The Buzzcocks provided a bit of randomness, but the most arbitrary choice was the opening number, ‘We’re All In This Together’ from High School Musical (the Disney version…) which bore no relation in any way to anything at all.  The chorus (as Chinese citizens) sold it, though, so that was OK.  Attending pantomime without a programme is always exciting with the songs, as you can play a game of trying to spot the song from the opening chords and then speculate on how well or otherwise it’ll fit with proceedings.

I had a lot of fun.  I was impressed by several of the performers and let myself go so that I could happily boo the villain, shout ‘Hiya’ to Aladdin and join in with ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ (“Five custard piiiiiiiiies!”) with no inhibitions.  Which is always the best way.  If you attend a panto and don’t join in, then you tend not to have a good time.  It’s participatory entertainment, community fun, and an all-round enjoyable experience.

    • Jade
    • February 7th, 2008

    if you didnt know then Stephen Mulhern is actually very famous! he has won a bafta and various other awards for his original style to magic! he enjoys working as a childrens tv presenter and it’s what he does best so stop slagging him off!

  1. Slagging him off? I apologise if you got that impression, but I thought I’d made it clear that I really enjoyed his performance and was impressed by him as well.

    • David
    • January 11th, 2009

    A year to the day since you blogged this, you will be in dress rehearsal… in Aladdin 😉 Who would have thought?

    And do you still think ‘We’re All In This Together’ from High School Musical is an arbitrary number? he he

  2. That is pretty strange, and I for one certainly would not have thought! And, yes, I do still think that song is arbitrary, but most panto opening numbers are…

  1. January 20th, 2008
    Trackback from : Pages tagged “festive”

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