at the Queen's Theatre Hornchurch
for The Reviews Hub
Here be dragons …
Mark Walters' fairy-tale designs for this year's panto at the Queen's are charmingly oriental, with dragons round the proscenium, on the cloths and even projected onto the auditorium carpet and the walls - and noisily invading the foyer on opening night. Lovely ruins in the Tibetan land of ice, a gorgeous backdrop of a lake with junks, and a picture-book market-place in Old Peking.
Nicholas Pegg's take on the tale of Aladdin and his lamp is a fast-moving family show – there's even a number celebrating family values, though maybe the Twankeys are not the best example. There's lots of throwaway humour, some of it filthy, though most of it is clever and slightly off-the-wall. The Vizier's titles for the Emperor, for instance, are a splendid running gag – the sesame substitutes and the TfL Lions too - and there are passing references to Tinder, Star Wars and the Emperor's new clothes, as well as an up-to-the minute dig at Olly Murs. For the record, on press night the Sainsbury's gag went rather better than the smut.
The best pantomime performers forge a bond of affectionate complicity with their audience, and know exactly when to serve the story and the style, and when to send them up.
Sam Pay's Abanazar succeeds brilliantly here, pure evil with his big red book, slickly subverting the script but raising deafening boos from the youngsters in the audience. Fred Broom is a wicked Widow Twankey, wearing her fantastical frocks – Willow Pattern, rotary drier, Pagoda, pink and lilac Frozen – with aplomb. The classic twin sisters routine is perfectly done. Matthew Quinn works his socks off as Wishee Washee, Naomi Bullock slaps her thigh in the title role and Callum Hughes' Emperor of all China is a charming old buffer. Mixed doubles from Rachel Nottingham as the shy feminist Jasmine and a soap-addicted Slave of the Ring, and Thomas Sutcliffe as a lisping Vizier and a straight classical Genie of the Lamp. A great guest appearance from ASMs Rhyan Eldon-Davis and Joe Watch as the Abdominal Showman.
Carol Sloman's original songs are lively and tuneful – a nice old-fashioned duet for Twankey and the Emperor, and for the youngsters [three teams of eight on this show] a nicely choreographed Our Chinese Garden to open Act Two. The kids also got to be mini-me Genies, tiny Abanazars and the comedy cops.
The effects are a little tame, though the carpet flies well, and the lighting is often spectacular.
Something for everyone in a packed two hours – crisps and sweets for the cubs in the stalls, a ker-ching moment for the sponsors, a traditional story clearly told, a front-cloth song for all ages, a proper staircase for the wedding walk-down and a moral message before the title cloth falls.
The Queen's Resident Company is directed by Matt Devitt, with choreography by Donna Berlin and musical direction by Dan de Cruz.
production photograph by Mark Sepple