Aladdin. The Harlequin Theatre, Redhill.
After a two-year enforced absence Redhill’s theatre lovers were more than ready to be transported into the familiar bawdy, pantomime world via Aladdin’s Arabia.
There was a palpable, excited fizz from the mask-wearing audience as the lights dimmed revealing the stage and a suitably evil Abanazar, played by Nicole Faraday, who remained throughtout on the right side of caricature. She hissed and yelled at the audience with joyful venom, clearly relishing being the baddie. The audience loved it, stamping their feet and booing with glee. The Harlequin hasn’t had this much auditory fun since the good old days of 2019.
We meet our heroes, those characters audiences root for. CBBC’s Naomi Wilkinson is a wide-eyed ‘Spirit of the Ring’ and Daniel Hall as Aladdin in his big pantomime debut. Not, that you would guess it – he gives an assured performance, despite having to tackle some tricky vocals, especially Cee Lo Green’s Forget You. Hall does a fine job and as the audience danced and sang along , it was like being at some joyous non-government party.
The party vibe is 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 and a colour-changing beehive wig. Simon appreciated all the more as his usual sparring partner, Neil Wheatley isn’t live this season.
Instead, he makes an Alec Guinness-esque appearance as a hologram 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 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 of the Harlequin Pantomime lies in its familiarity – comparable to putting on a cosy pair of pyjamas and watching a favourite film. The ‘Ghost Chase‘ and the ‘If I were not in pantomime a…,’ feature every season and would be sorely missed should they ever be dropped.
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 as some bemused younger children looked on.
Some of the bigger productions offer pantomimes full of effects and wizardry and arguably lose some of the bawdy fun in the process. The Harlequin’s panto is always traditional and all the more better for it. Here’s to 2022 and should Neil return. Remember my kiss!
For tickets click here.
All photography by Stephanie Tully.
Reigate and Banstead Writes regularly reviews local and not so local event. It is the home to an annual creative writing competition for local children aged 10-14.