After a rocky year for the folks at QDOS, the entertainment producers have a lot riding on them as they bring Bristol it’s one and only panto. Cue Aladdin at the Hippodrome, a spectacular, no expense spared production, jam packed with colour, energy, and damn right daftness. This panto blows any other out of the water with its new and different twist on the traditional pantomime.
Puppets that filled the stage, pyrotechnics, and a 3D video that despite looking like a 90s video game quality had children and adults screaming in terror. This pantomime is not for the faint hearted. I am pretty sure there are children still having nightmares after zombie heads come flying off the stage and spiders crawl towards them.
This is definitely not your traditional comforting pantomime, but comes with a darker twist and plenty of lighting, haze and heavy sound for dramatic effect. Without a girl in the lead as Aladdin, it loses its classic pantomime status in many people’s eyes. For people like my mother who grew up watching and being in traditional pantomime, this was a slight disappointment. At times the show steered away from tired tradition, still holding on to some familiar elements but with its own modern day spin. Some of these changes worked better than others. For example, Joe Pasquales forever interrupting Wishee Washee kept things upbeat during the compulsory love songs which can often bring the whole show down a gear. However the excessive production elements felt as if they were compensating for something. Even if you don’t get what you expect, what you end up with by the curtain fall is so much more.
Often with pantomime, household names are thrust into roles over those who would be more suitable. A good balance of celebrities and professional cast members kept the show strong yet sellable. Alexis Gerred as Aladdin and Hayley Tamaddon as Princess Jasmine were a sturdy backbone to the chaos and flamboyance around them.
A core energy throughout the show came in forms of sketches filled with endless tongue twisters, complicated rapping from the Dame to the tune of Nicki Minaj’s Bang Bang, and a complex rendition of “If I Were Not Upon The Stage” which was exhausting to watch. These were real gems and the moments I have remembered most clearly.
The mad mix of radical special effects, big scale puppetry and bizarre outbursts made my guest next to me turn and say “I feel like I’m on drugs”, just as the flying carpet landed for the interval. If King Kong, a giant cobra, elephants, pandas, penguins and a loop-the-looping flying carpet doesn’t make you question your sanity (and soberness), then what will?
My main criticism was the fuzzy location changes. To me, who has only really known the Disney version of Aladdin, it is set in Arabia, however the China and Egypt relocation was slightly muddled and the changes from pyramids to the great wall were caught up in the show business of it all, lumping countries together in a clumsy fashion.
Marti Pellow was fantastic as “evil” Abanazar, evil being the last thing he was. His midlife crisis was, for me, a highlight as he reassures himself he is as “handsome and debonair” as ever. His “accidental” slipping back into his Scottish accent was a subtle element that may have gone over the children’s head but amused me each and every time it happened.
Joe Pasquale, as Wishee Washee stole the show. His constant mocking and mischief meant the evening never lapsed in pace. Whether he is driving a toilet with a block of cheese on his head or dressed in saggy tights and a corset three sizes too big he never failed to have the audience in stitches. His high pitched voice and hip thrusting action teamed with his childish prancing wasn’t exactly to my taste, but I have to admit his razor sharp wit and polished patter ran rings around the rest of the cast.
This production is very “Bristol” to me, quirky and different yet welcoming and a little bit nuts all at the same time! If you want comforting and happy clappy then this isn’t the pantomime for you but if you fancy shaking things up this festive season then head down to the Hippodrome.
Aladdin runs until the 7th of January.