Sunday, 14 December 2014

Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp - GRADS (13 December 2014)

Me? At a pantomime? A Christmas one no less? There’s a first for everything! I took a seat in my usual front row spot at Hackett Hall with much trepidation. What sort of impromptu audience participation was I signalling myself out for by sitting so close to the firing line? Thankfully, director Stephen Lee calmed my nerves with a pre-show assurance that no such shenanigans would be in order. Phew! I then settled in to watch a crazy show that was totally entertaining and a really fun (carpet-less) ride.

The first thing that struck me was that the tiered seating had been moved a long way forward from their usual spot. One common note at Dramafest was how far away the action was with such a deep stage. Here we were much closer and it was a really good choice. It was also great to see so many children in the audience and there was indeed a lot of group interaction with the usual boos as the villain appeared, a sing-along, and advice to our heroes.

The story itself? You know - Aladdin, a lamp, a beautiful princess, an evil Sorcerer, a Vogue-reading Genie, some Kung Fu fighting, lots of laundry, men in drag, women as men, Chinese-style Keystone Cops, and a propensity to break into song whenever a set change was required. Oh, and some self-inflicted cream pie in the face work. Your standard pantomime hijinks. It was lapped up by the enthusiastic audience – the show, not the cream pie – and everyone was having a really good time capped off by an elderly man with a white beard in a red jump suit gate-crashing the party.

To the performances!

Grant Malcolm was channelling some Jim-Broadbent-as-Ziegler type theatrics as the evil wizard Abanazar and was suitably over-the-top. He earned the hearty boos directed his way. Abanazar’s plans for world domination were somewhat altered on meeting the princess but who can blame him?

Jarrod Buttery made for a, ahem, handsome Widow Twankay and was thoroughly engaging in the role. Buttery used a droll sense of humour to great effect with plenty of asides to the audience, the slyer of which sailed over the head of the kids but were appreciated by the adults. I should also note that his beard nicely complimented the Widow’s various dresses!

It’s the first time I have seen Melissa Kiiveri on stage but she made for a radiant Aladdin in a spunky performance that was a real crowd pleaser. There was a cheekiness to her portrayal that I very much liked but, more impressively, a genuine tenderness in the romance with the Princess. 

That Princess  - Balroubadour – was played by Grace Edwards with naivety and innocence coupled with the odd regal temper tantrum. Edwards had the line of the night whilst wailing for her beloved Aladdin when she broke the fourth wall and bemoaned, “Three years at WAAPA, for this?!” Priceless.

Kate O’Sullivan gave a funky turn as the Genie of the Lamp with attitude to burn and a thick American accent that was a treat. Indeed, between O’Sullivan’s drawl, Lis Hoffman’s thick strine as So Shi, and Kiiveri’s pronounced English accent this was somewhat of a United Nations for the ear! I was bemused by the Deus Ex Genie to resolve a plot predicament (but really, who cared?) and O’Sullivan had a chance to shine with her rendition of Pharrell’s Happy which I believe is now mandatory for all new musicals, pantomimes, and cabarets to end with these days. Let It Go, people.

Of the secondary characters, fresh-faced James Parker played the straight man role of Aladdin’s brother Wishee Washee well. He had a good-natured vibe that worked very effectively. Hoffman, as mentioned, was the most unlikely of handmaidens bringing Ocker scepticism to her role and an unexpected development that I’m possibly still traumatised over! Judd Millner and Jennifer Van Den Hoek brought added comic relief as the Chinese policemen, Ping and Pong. Jonathan Beckett and Kerri Hilton rounded out the cast as The Grand Vizier and The Empress respectively. They amusingly had their own banter going on.

The ensemble was made up of a charming mix of young children and older performers who gave interesting interpretations of pop standards such as Kung Fu Fighting, Celebration and a re-imagining of Pinball Wizard (perhaps it’s just as well Pete Townshend is deaf!). The second act even commenced with a lovely ribbon dance performance by three members of the Chung Wah Dance Group.  

The highlight amongst all the madness though was an original song in the second act written by David Harries, Sarah Courtis and Arnold Wong called Forever and a Day that was beautifully performed by Edwards and Kiiveri. Finally, it was pleasing to see the cast come back out in costume to pose for pictures with the children. A nice touch.

Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp is a colourful and funny show that is perfect entertainment for all the family in the lead up to Christmas. I not only went to a pantomime, I thoroughly enjoyed myself! Oh yes I did!!!

There are four more shows left at Hackett Hall in Floreat until 20 December.   

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