Aladdin. The Harlequin Theatre, Redhill.
Aladdin, one of the most magical tales ever told and after a two-year enforced absence, boy were the Harlequin pantomime lovers ready to be transported to the familiar bawdy world of pantomime via Aladdin’s Arabia.
There was a palpable, excited fizz as the mask-wearing audience waited with bated breath for the curtain to draw back. The lights dimmed, revealing a suitably evil Abanazar, played by Nicole Faraday, who remained on the right side of caricature. She hissed and yelled at the audience with joyful venom, clearly relishing being the baddie and what a voice she has. The audience of course loved it, stamping their feet and booing. We were off. The theatre hasn’t heard this much noise since 2019
We meet the heroes, the good guys we are to root for. Naomi Wilkinson, a wide-eyed ‘Spirit of the Ring, a familiar face to CBBC viewers. Daniel Hall as Aladdin, a big debut role for him, not that you would know it. He gives an assured performance, despite tackling some tricky vocals – Cee Lo Green Forget You is not an easy song to take on and he does a fine job, backed by the fantastic ensemble dancers and for a moment it was like being at some joyous non-government party. The party feeling reinforced by an inspired Bee Gee segment. Who knew they were big in ancient Arabia? Praise must go to choreographer Danielle Drayton and musical director Ashley Harvey for putting together some excellent dancing and weaving pop classics into a familiar tale.
Of course, the biggest cheer was reserved for Harlequin legend and scene-stealer Simon Bashford. He tottered onto stage, wearing the first in an array of fantastic frocks. His beehive wig changing colour throughout the show. Simon appreciated all the more as his usual sparring partner, Neil Wheatley is sadly not appearing live in 2021.
As a consolation, he makes an Alec Guinness-esque appearance via a special video projected onto the theatre wall. His role as genie of the lamp, is to provide words of wisdom to young Aladdin as he battles to win the hand of Princess Jasmine – a sweet Sophie Lyster in her debut and overcome the evil Abanazar. Neil’s absence meant the audience were safe from the traditional drenching section. Sadly, for us ladies there was no chance of a Christmas kiss either. We will have to wait until 2022 (Neil- please let it be me!)
Comedian and Britain’s Got Talent star Daliso Chaponda is this year’s comedy glue, a role usually taken by the much-loved Neil. Wisely, he didn’t try to emulate him, bringing his own brand of cheeky, irreverent humour to the role of Wishy Washey. Plenty of jokes about government parties for the adults and the kids loved giving him two claps back whenever her took to the stage. He formed a great comedy partnership with Simon. One, it is hoped is repeated in the future.
Kudos to Lewis Rae as Emperor of China and all he surveys as he struts across the stage like an emperor peacock, failing, like all proud rich pantomime fathers to see the joke is on him. PC Me and PC You, Finan Mckinney and Joshua Molyneux provide a fantastic foil to the wider cast with some great dance moves to boot. The ensemble cast are incredible this year
The joy in a Harlequin Pantomime lies in its familiarity. It is like putting on a cosy pair of pyjamas and watching an uproariously funny movie you have seen over and over again. The ‘ghost chase’ and the ‘If I were not in pantomime a tennis player I would be,’ Aladdin rising up by the power of the Harlequin Stage Crew on his magic carpet. The one nod to special effects that mar some ‘bigger’ shows when it becomes all about the effects. The Harlequin panto is all the better for sticking to the traditional.
And most importantly, the good guy always wins. Overcoming all challenges and ending in a big finale.
The Rick Astley finale, surely aimed at parents who were kids in the 80s is a wonderful touch. All the cast looked as if they are living their best lives, dancing away with enormous smiles on their faces. The crowd singing along behind their masks, with, it must be said, some bemused younger children looking on,
It is all the more remarkable when you think that many of this young cast, including the titular Aladdin are making their debut. They fit into the Harlequin Shoes perfectly. So get your tickets and enjoy a wonderful Redhill tradition. The Harlequin Panto. I am already looking forward to Cinderella in 2022.
Remember my kiss Neil!
For tickets click here.
All photography by Stephanie Tully.
Reigate and Banstead Writes reviews local arts events from theatre to music. It also hosts an annual creative writing competition for local children aged 10-14.