Blessed with a full orchestra, sumptuous costumes and lavish sets, and a script which is genuinely funny, this is a classy panto, with a difference. The comedy is sharp, and aimed squarely at Lily’s legion of fans, so more adult in content. But there is nothing crude, and it is all well hidden in eye catching visual imagery and slapstick, so parents shouldn’t face too many awkward questions from puzzled kiddies.
The Genie of the Lamp is a huge cartoon-like puppet with a huge personality, who towers over the stage; whereas the Slave of the Ring comes in the shapely form of Wave 105 radio presenter Shireen Jordan, in a suitably exotic performance that is bound to please the Dads in the audience. There is the world’s cutest panto elephant, in the shape of Bobo, who steals the show every time he wanders on stage, and an awe-inspiring magic carpet ride in which Aladdin appears to soar out over the auditorium, as a breath-taking Act 1 finale.
Comedy policemen, Ping and Pong (Matthew Rixon and Andy Spiegel) do a crowd pleasing variation on the Abbot and Costello “Who’s on First?” routine, and there is much camp villainy from Darren Bennett’s Abanazar, and bluster from Nigel Garton’s Emporer. Ex S-Club 7 singer, Jon Lee, makes a dashing Aladdin to Marissa Dunlop-Bidwell’s Princess Jasmine – both delivering top-notch vocals in the various love songs and anthems. Indeed the entire cast, including the blonde from Birkenhead herself, sound superb in the varied score, ranging from west end showstoppers to Take That.
Of course it is for “the blonde bombsite” that the crowds turn out, and she does not disappoint. O’Grady’s Twankey grudgingly participates in all the panto clichés – the “oh yes it is, oh no it isn’t” routines, the outrageous costume changes and the asides to the audience, in a delightful, multi-layered performance.
This is a strange pantomime in many ways – there are no sing-alongs, no sweet throwing, no speciality acts and for most of the show Twankey is the only character that really interacts with the audience at all. It feels at times more of a west end show (and a very slick and entertaining one and that) than a true pantomime. However, by the end, you do get the festive, feel-good glow, and once you get over the oddness of being part of a booing and jeering crowd of mainly grown-ups acting like children, you can’t fail to be won over.
Lily Savage is the ultimate Dame for the modern age, and I hope that she can be coaxed out again and again to keep this wonderful tradition fresh and alive.