Sun, 13 Dec 2020
Picture: Luke MacGregor
Aladdin, Adult Night, at the Corn Exchange, on Saturday, December 12
REVIEW by Tony Trigwell-Jones
DEFT, Daft and Defiant, Plested and Brown’s Aladdin at The Corn Exchange, Newbury is the most unlikely of events, which hits home towards the end of the show when Flight-Crew-cum-Fairy-Godmother-cum-Digital-Assistant Celia Siri triumphantly exclaims: “we did a panto in a pandemic!”.
This distinctly British tradition, with its roots in 15th century Italian theatre, blended with the bawdy brashness of Music Hall, has become the mainstay of local venues every Christmas and is usually central to financial survival. This is why, in any other year, there are literally thousands to choose from in small towns, big cities and in the West End.
But this is 2020, when there are perhaps little more than 50 productions nationwide and what a showstopper this is. With the spectre of Covid over everything in our lives (with the distinctly boozy ‘Adult Night’ crowd in booths, masks on, having passed through a temperature check) it would be easy to allow it to dominate the performance. However, instead we are treated to a script which gives us every touchstone of the year, from Netflix hits (Tiger King) to political misses (Barnard Castle), delivered by a cast who relish every turn!
Whether singing classics like Tom Lehrer’s I Got it from Agnes or
delivering more contemporary moments of fourth-wall breaking buffoonery, their unswerving exuberance is (like whatever Dame Twankey is actually talking about in Lehrer’s song) utterly infectious.
True to the origins of Pantomime, everyone has an opportunity to showcase individual talents, whether that’s roller-skating, saxophone and improvisation, or singing, dancing and comedy. None of the near-the-knuckle jokes that would usually fly over any kids in the audience are missed here, but neither is there a forced effort to make the show more ‘adult’, which shows excellent judgement from the whole company.
Speaking to some of the audience in the interval, it is clear that these special grown-up performances have become a tradition in and of themselves, and in a year in which we have had to give up so much, a sense of normality and the desire to relax and have a good time has never been more important.
That aside, Aladdin delivers on every level: it’s panto-sparkle, sharp satire, silliness and sass will raise a smile on any face and remind you of the magic of live entertainment, which we have missed so much.