Words by Melissa Blease Theatre Royal Bath until Sunday 8 January
In 1788, Irish actor John O’Keefe dramatised an ancient Middle Eastern folk tale, laden with allegories based around the abuse of power, the misuse of supernatural forces and the enduring effects of love, and adapted it for ‘modern’ audiences. And so it came to pass that, centuries later…
In recent decades, the fable’s popularity enjoyed a major resurgence, bolstered by the success of the spectacular 1992 Disney film version. Last year, Aladdin beat both Sleeping Beauty and Snow White to top UK Theatre’s Nation’s Favourite Panto survey, joining Cinderella and Jack and the Beanstalk in the top three faves and further confirming the story’s iconic status – and it isn’t difficult to work out why: fast-paced, slightly surreal, exuberant, vibrant and funny, Aladdin, his magic lamp and a Genie offers multi-generational appeal.
But despite all the magic and sparkle that really, really good classic panto delivers (and to say that this year’s Theatre Royal Bath production has plenty of both would be an understatement), the script that the bonds the whole extravaganza together is the star of the show – and yet again, award-winning actor and writer Jon Monie (who celebrates his 20th Christmas show at Theatre Royal Bath this year) has delivered in spades, blending good old fashioned, proper pantomime tradition with enough of a contemporary spin to keep contemporary attention levels up throughout.
Monie stars in the show too, as Widow Twankee’s delightfully dim son Wishee Washee; the quick-fire repartee between son and mum (Nick Wilton, a very grand Dame indeed) is the gift that keeps on giving throughout the whole, superbly silly extravaganza.
Tom (Emmerdale) Lister brings lashings of dashingly handsome, suitably camp boo-hiss to his Abanazar, Kaysha Nada is a perfect Princess Jasmine, Amy Perry’s pragmatic Spirit of the Ring keeps multiple flights of fancy grounded, Maddison Tyson is an utterly swoonsome Genie… and Alex Aram in the title role takes the whole audience with him on his rather complicated journey from zero to hero. But ultimately, this big jolly Christmas outing comes to us courtesy of one big energetic ensemble including a live orchestra in the pit and an all-age assortment of high-voltage Dorothy Coleborn School dancers, all bought together with lashings of good-natured good fun.
Not a fan of pantomime? Oh yes you are! If, that is, you allow Theatre Royal Bath’s annual festive feast to work its time-honoured magic.