It is a splendid idea for a community company such as GDS Productions to stage a family show for the people of Medway during half term. And if February feels a bit odd for a panto I have to remind myself that it’s actually more traditional than the pre-Christmas fare we’ve all got used to. In my childhood, panto opened on Boxing Day and ran for several weeks into the new year.
Under Debbie Brennan’s facilitative, and very experienced, direction, the show offers plenty to admire. There is, for example some fine dancing by a group from within the ensemble choreographed by Bethany Kember. And I really liked the decision to place the five piece band (MD: Peter Bailey) – in coolie hats and red waistcoats and in glittery gear for the cave scene – along the back of the stage. The home produced set is imaginative too with a “nosh and wash” corner for Window Twankey (Nick Smith) painted flowers and other Chinese things including some rather fetching lanterns.
If you have a cast whose singing ability is variable then it makes sense, as Brennan does, to focus more on dialogue and story telling than on singing although there are some enjoyable sung numbers such as a pretty duet by Amy Allen (who also dances well and has lots of stage presence) as Princess Mandarin and Megan Chapman as So-Shy. And what fun to hear the Pizza Hut song again – it’s several years since it has made an appearance in any panto I’ve seen. And I liked the dance number based on The Monkees’ I’m a Believer led by Allen and Aladdin (Aidan Harwood)
Glenn Atkinson, looking fantastic in blue make up on all the skin which shows, is a show stealer as the Genie of the Lamp. He does a lovely up-beat patter song to show that he really can make magical things happen and his duet with Harwood, Randy Newman’s “I wouldn’t have Nothing if I didn’t have You” is another high spot. Atkinson is a very dynamic presence on stage.
Carly Caller is an attractive Wishee Washee with attitude, lots of energy and a good singing voice. And Marianna Allen and Laura Stoneman are great as PCs Pong and Wong, riding scooters and mangling their English in a pun-laden, faux Chinese accents.
What a good idea too to put a lateral ramp across the front of the Brook Theatre’s smallish thrust stage. It provides more playing space and a visually interesting way of getting cast members on and off – safe for the five quite young children in the company too.
You can always rely on ever-versatile GDS productions for a creditable show and Aladdin is no exception.