Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Christmas Pantomime -- Aladdin

The pantomime is a Christmas tradition in the UK, and this year the New Wimbledon Theatre has been publicising their production of Aladdin almost everywhere, including the ticket gates at Putney station. Eager as ever to get the authentic British experience here, we got tickets and went along.

This year there are four celebrities playing the role of the Genie: Ruby Wax, Pamela Anderson, Paul O'Grady and some woman off Eastenders. We were booked to see Pam, but due to "family commitments" we got Ruby instead.

In the end, it didn't matter much. The Genie was only on for a fraction of the show, and Ruby played it as a sarcastic, withering character who was either too cool or too busy to care about the surroundings. Thus, the show was mostly carried by the main cast: Wishy-Washy and Widow Twanky, Abanazar, and to a lesser extent Aladdin and Jasmine. There were plenty of jokes, lots of booing and hissing, and a rather out of place segment of Peking's Got Talent (we all got to sing about a worm at the bottom of the garden).

One highlight was Brian Blessed, who is famous for shouting lines. He had a microphone, but when he yelled "I can't hear you" for the third time, I'm sure they had the microphone off and his voice still filled the theatre. His appearances were formulaic -- turn up, encourage a few boos and hisses, spell out the plot (loudly) and then disappear to lightning. When you're the bad guy in the pantomime though, that's what you're there for.

Overall, the panto was quite good fun, and certainly a good way to spend an otherwise cold and dreary Sunday afternoon.

This contrasted rather nicely with Inherit the Wind, a play inspired by the Scopes trial of the 1920s. This was a much more serious play, although it had plenty of light moments. Kevin Spacey played the defence lawyer, and did a good job of an old-ish man who for some reason reminded me of Mark Twain. The eventual outcome was just as obvious as Aladdin, but the play kept our attention the whole way through. I spent a lot of the time feeling incredulous at how a town could be so closed-minded against science; but then again, the whole play was apparently a statement against the McCarthy communist-hating era that was around when the play was written.

Aladdin and Brian Blessed was certainly a contrast to Inherit the Wind and Kevin Spacey. Still, we had icecream in the interval at both.

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