Stories about dads elbowing past children in the ticket queue at the New Wimbledon Theatre this week can mean only one thing – Pamela Anderson has finally arrived.
The former Baywatch star, more used to the beaches of California than the icy environs of South London, is playing the Genie of the Lamp in Aladdin for two weeks, before she's succeeded by a succession of stars including Paul O'Grady.
Not wishing to miss such a momentous theatrical event, a scrum of (predominantly male) critics made the journey south last night, and most were impressed with what they saw.
“Still perky enough to represent a challenge to that old panto cry of 'behind you!'” writes Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail, “Because with Pamela they are most definitely 'in front of you!'”. This pretty much set the tone as Anderson and her “double act” predictably gobbled up the column inches.
Letts' male peers were largely in agreement that, despite a “squeaky voice” and questionable acting abilities, Anderson's mere presence, in all her “pneumatic glory”, was worth the trip to SW19. The Guardian's Lyn Gardner was less enamoured, praising the “slick synthetic cheerfulness” of Ian Talbot's production and co-stars including Brian Blessed, but rebuking the blonde bombshell's “truly dazzling lack of effort”.
Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail - “Experimental theatre took a new turn last night when that well known double act, Pamela Anderson, made her debut in the specialist genre of British pantomime ... This show is a gaudy, vulgar riot … It is a full hour and five minutes before she makes her first appearance, descending from on high on some celestial orb. Her first scene, which includes a Christine Aguilera hit, lasts little more than a couple of minutes but it is enough to make one dwell on the wonders of fleshly engineering … Last night's crowd was going bananas, whooping and cheering (and not all of them were men) … They were applauding her simply because she is a one-woman Silicon Valley, a walking dumbbells, not so much a female body as a boa constrictor who has just swallowed a two-humped camel … Her legs, carrying that bizarre bulk, look as vulnerable as two twiglets. She gabbles on stage, waves her arms around, fluffs out her custard coloured hair, shrouds herself in some skimpy wrap and keeps giving a wannabe Hollywood star smile at the crowd. Oh, I suppose it's pretty awful rubbish, really, and yet it works.”
Lyn Gardner in the Guardian (two stars) - “Hopes that Pamela Anderson might carry all before her when making her panto debut as the Genie of the Lamp are dashed by a performance that is crushed by the weight of expectation, limited technique and a truly dazzling lack of effort … Anderson doesn't act. Indeed, she barely even walks, being repeatedly airlifted down from the ceiling on a silver swing … Paul O'Grady takes over the role in the New Year (how will he fit into that tiny fuchsia leotard?) and is probably worth hanging on for, because at least he will give the role the welly it deserves … It's a cub-scout-pleasing evening of slick synthetic cheerfulness, but it boobs in the casting of Anderson. She may be a mighty draw at the box office, but she's no asset on stage.”
Benedict Nightingale in The Times (three stars) - “Imagine you’re a likely lad called Aladdin … Imagine your surprise when down from the roof on a silver swing teeters Pamela Anderson … No wonder that Ashley Day’s Aladdin boggles. And when last night she breathily asked him what she could do for him, no wonder some womble in the audience cried: 'Tell ’er to rub yer lamp.' The man in me saw what he meant. But the critic in me was forced to admit that her diction was iffy going on poor … The strongest presence is Brian Blessed’s Abanazar … As for Anderson, well, her prime function is sensuously, sinuously to palpitate, undulate, wiggle, wriggle and, told that evil hands all around are desperate to get hold of all she owns, to clutch with a smile at those celebrated boobs. All this she does well. A pity she has to speak too.”
Henry Hitchings in Evening Standard (three stars) - “The biggest moment is Anderson’s arrival. She descends grandly - framed by a giant silver hoop, singing Christina Aguilera’s 'Genie In A Bottle' - in a crystal-studded version of her famous red swimsuit, dangling a pair of glitter-encrusted heels … She can sing a little, and shimmy a lot. She’s not exactly the beating heart of proceedings - she’s not on stage for very long - but there is no doubt whom the audience is there to see, and they see plenty … Eric Potts’ script provides some ripe laughs and festive groans, and there’s local humour … More likable are Ashley Day’s Aladdin, wholesome if rather soppy, and sweet-voiced Leila Benn Harris as Princess Jasmine … There’s physical tomfoolery, some fairly smart choreography by Sarah Dean, and oodles of slushy pop. Ian Talbot’s production is a bit too long, and while fun and glamour are in abundance, there’s a lack of real soul.”
Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph (three stars) - “In a house packed at her opening night with innocent looking cub scouts, one rather feared for the morals of the nation's youth when confronted with the pneumatic glory that is Pamela Anderson … Though Anderson has a talent far smaller than her bust, she proves a good sport in the show too … Her squeaky voice is a pale imitation of Marilyn Monroe's, and no one, or at least no one in their right mind, could describe her as a good actress. But I rather fell for the way her initial sultry pouts gave way to innocent grins of pleasure at appearing in so daft a show … If the rest of the cast are galled at appearing with a star who has less talent than them, is almost certainly on a far higher wage, and was parachuted into the show with just a couple of days of rehearsal, they certainly don't show it.”