Principal boys seem to have become something of an endangered species these days. More and more men are laying firm claim to the hero’s role in pantomime. The production of Aladdin scripted by Peter Hilton which Patrick Jacobs has directed for the Rhodes Arts Complex is firmly on the side of tradition. There are, of course, also some innovations.
Take for example the Slave of the Ring. She’s full of pithy rhyming couplets and Felicity Shakespeare makes her a thoroughly pragmatic piece of magic. Aladdin is not just Widow Twankey’s son, he’s a road-sweeper and Princess Jasmine (Kathryn Duffy) is definitely a young lady with a mind of her own, a strong singing voice as well as an occasionally over-sharp tongue. The Genie of the Lamp is a rather muscular emanation once Aladdin reaches the mountain cave and its mysterious lamp. In the second act the magic carpet ride takes in most of the landmarks between China and Egypt with a popular digression above the streets of Bishop’s Stortford.
It’s surprising what you can fit onto a small stage; set designer Michalis Kokkoliadis and costume designer Jules Dale fill it with colour, sumptuous fabrics, a few necessary artefacts and draw curtains which have just the right degree of non-realism, The young performers from the Graham School of Dance cope very well with the occasionally demanding choreography of Hannah Davies and Carly Spendlove. Mike Roberts is the musical director with Chris Lowe as the hard-working percussionist.
Jon Dixon’s Widow Twankey skips in and out of an increasingly fantastic series of costumes and keeps the comedy at the right level for his audience. Abetting him/her are Simon Pennicott’s Wishee Washee and the director’s Emperor Pong. Our villain is the eminently boo-hissable Trevor Nicholls while Kathy Hipperson in the title role not only has the legs for the part; she injects it with a boyish bravura which keeps the exchanges with Jasmine credible.