A Made in Colchester Production at the Mercury Theatre
for The Reviews Hub
You'll believe a mat can fly …
Aladdin's magic carpet ride was just one of many delights in this carefully crafted panto, a near-perfect cocktail of glamour, silliness and fairy-tale romance.
Under the green-eyed gaze of the dragons rampant either side of the stage, the book, by Fine Time Fontayne and director Daniel Buckroyd, leads us through the timeless tale, allowing space for big numbers, classic routines and, most important, that special rapport that the best panto performances have with the punters.
And here we have Colchester favourites Ignatius Anthony and Dale Superville, giving us, respectively a suavely evil Abanazar and a silly, sunny Wishee Washee. Both seem effortlessly to elicit an enthusiastically noisy reception from the youngsters. Working the slow Sunday matinée crowd, with grumpy banter and outrageous ad-libs, Antony Stuart-Hicks' Twanky is a dame to die for. Singing and dancing in the production numbers, hilariously handling his “sons”, and opening his heart to the front stalls. Ruby, 9, is last on today's birthday list. “Isn't this the ultimate embarrassment,” quips the widow, “Welcome to life!”.
Glenn Adamson is a cool, boy-band Aladdin, hoofing very deftly in the opening number; he even manages to bring off the sentimental Thinking Out Loud duet, complete with pas-de-deux from ensemble dancers Colin Burnicle and Gracie Lai. His lovely Jasmine, the paper bag princess who gets a girl power moment defeating Abanazar, is Sarah Moss. Tim Freeman plays the impecunious Emperor Eric Wonton; Simon Pontin and Laura Curnick are kept busy doubling as Ping and Pong, the comedy policemen, and the bearded Genie and Siri – nod to Apple's knowledge navigator – the Slave of the Ring.
The music is carefully chosen, and cleverly reworked by MD Richard Reeday to suit the panto plot. Yes, we get this year's must-have number, Uptown Funk, but also, for the older audience, Billy Joel's original Uptown Girl. Jessie J's Bang Bang follows hard on the heels of Sullivan's Three Little Maids. And the singalong – vamp till ready, Uncle Richard – is Kung Fu Fighting.
In the Frozen Himalayas [rhymes with Walton-on-the Naze] Widow Twankey, dressed inappropriately a la Carmen Miranda, does a Copacabana spoof; this is also the setting for the Yeti Ghost Routine, which this show has the confidence to do properly and in full, despite the Dame's disclaimer - “I hate this scene ...”
The laundry – featuring the patent Twankomatic with its soft soap, mangle and steam press – gets a spontaneous “Wow!” from the stalls, and the split-screen cave, the palace perspective and the colourful market work well, too.
The Junior Chorus is given plenty to do, and rises marvellously to the challenge of some super choreography [Charlie Morgan], sporting yellow Marigolds for Walks Like Rihanna.
All too soon, the wedding walk-down and a heartfelt All I Want For Christmas Is You.
The Mercury can feel justly proud of its Made In Colchester pantomime – one of our three wishes has to be for more of the same in 2016.
production photograph: Mike Kwasniak