|Lily Savage and Jon Lee|
With Paul O’Grady as Dame Widow Twankey, the O2 presents Aladdin as their foray into London's pantomime season.
A large venue demands a similarly proportioned budget and this show does not disappoint. The cast list drips with talent as Jon Lee temporarily vacates his Jersey Boys Frankie Valli persona to play the street-urchin of the title whilst O Grady slips back into his now rarely seen Lily Savage, playing Aladdin's much put upon washer-woman mother and as the producers intend, stealing every scene.
Where most pantomimes have a local flavour, the O2 is London’s largest stage and what colloquial references there are in the script, need to be on a grand scale. Other than passing references to Boris Johnson and West Ham United, there are actually few nods to the capital at all but this lack of parochial sarcasm is more than made up for by O’ Grady's savage alter ego. Gags that suggest it is is quicker to get a council flat than be served at the O2 bar and his repeated line suggesting that the theatre (made from a tent) is a tougher gig than entertaining the troops in Afghanistan give just the right amount of anarchic self-deprecation that get the audience on his side. Combine that with his frequent off-piste ad libs that corpse those fellow cast members sharing the stage with him and there is enough in the show to make the audience believe they have truly witnessed a performance unique to that night – part of the pantomime magic.
As a piece of musical theatre, the production values are consistently high. Bright costumes, lavish sets, tight choreography and a ten piece band all add to the feel of quality that surrounds the production. The tech side of the show is big budget brilliance. Aladdin’s flying carpet is a stunning piece of theatrical wizardry that will captivate children and astound adults. The sound, whilst being perfectly balanced is almost too good. The superbly mixed audio suggesting at times the pre-recorded backing track that one may be subjected to at a Disney Theme Park show, such is its fidelity.
The cast all shine. Darren Bennett offers a wicked Abanazar whose jazz hands routine in No More Mr Nice Guy suggests a delicious pastiche of the Wicked number, Wonderful. Delroy Atkinson explodes from the lamp as a grinning muscular Genie whilst Nigel Garton, Matthew Rixon and Andy Spiegel provide immaculately timed verbal slapstick that offers traditional pantomime hilarity. Perhaps though, the greatest moment of the show is not so much Aladdin’s carpet ride, but rather Lily Savage as Mama Morton, drilling the traditional corps of pantomime local children with When You’re Good To Mama from Chicago. The delicious irony of the song’s lyrics is possibly wasted on the kids and tourists in the audience, but this reviewer cried with laughter. O’Grady truly is one of the top UK entertainers.
Aladdin at the O2 is top quality pantomime fun. There is plenty to boo and cheer in a production that looks and sounds a million dollars. With its London location, and O’Grady’s proud Scouse heritage, it is family entertainment that will appeal not only across the ages but across the nation too. If you are seeking festive fun then this is a perfect reason to pay a visit to Greenwich.
Runs to January 5th