For one reason or another it has been a staggering thirty-five months since I last sat in a regular bricks and mortar theatre. I’m discounting the novel experiences of pop-up theatres in tents and marquees. Therefore, our visit to the Mercury Theatre in Colchester last Saturday to see Aladdin was an extra special treat.
The well-known story of Aladdin is a French add-on to the middle eastern collection of tales generally known as ‘The Arabian Nights’. In the Mercury version, writer Andrew Pollard chose to depict Aladdin as a poor, wannabe rock star from Colchestaria who falls for the beautiful Princes Jasmin. Being poor, Aladdin is easily persuaded to seek out the magic lamp for the wicked Fabra Cadabra, thus becoming rich and being able to live happily ever after.
As with any panto, the fun is never in the story itself. It is in the subtleties, the multi-level inuendo, the unscripted moments and yes, the schadenfreude that comes with not being the adult who gets picked on. Our heart went out to Will who briefly played the part of Roger, until six-year-old Anthony took over with his excellent timing and use of the line: “Look Utha – your loofa!”
You might be forgiven for thinking that any actors sharing a stage with the Mercury’s award winning pairing of Anthony Stuart-Hicks (Widow Twankey) and Dale Superville (Humphrey the camel) would be playing a sedate rhythm guitar to Anthony’s & Dale’s rocking lead. But not so. The strong vocal talents of James Hameed (Aladdin), Danielle Kassarate (Jasmin), Leonie Spilsbury (Fabra Cadabra) and Sasha Latoya (The Genie) ensured that this was a strong all-round performance from all involved.
Visual jokes abound in this show, however you need to be sharp to catch them all. Sergeant Nee and Constable Naw, with their futuristic hover bikes, briefly brought the ludicrous police chase scene to a new level. The loss of certain letters over the door of Widow Twankey’s Pamper Parlor was a joke on many levels!
Each year Anthony Stuart-Hicks’ costumes get more and more ridiculous with his head gear taking center stage this year as a collection of comforting coiffures screamed out for advertising placements. But be warned, Widow Twankey’s character has little time for noisy children, bad acting or ugly people!
I am convinced that by the end of this panto run, Dale Superville will need to rest his jaw for some considerable time. His constant mastication when not in a speaking role was mesmerizing and his, (I suspect unscripted), blue tongue lollypop scene was hilarious.
It was so good to be back in a theatre again. Watching the faces of the children enter the auditorium as they took in the magic that is a panto stage was heartwarming. So too was listening to them scream out “Its behind you”, completely unscripted.
Panto is the perfect antidote to the lockdown blues and Aladdin at the Mercury is one of the best in the region. To paraphrase Aladdin’s catch phrase – we will make it through because of “The Power of Panto”
Aladdin runs at the Mercury Theatre Colchester until 16th January – go on, treat yourself.