EVEN before the curtain rises, the walls of the gorgeous old auditorium are all covered in a strange pattern of lights, suggesting ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics.
Aladdin - King’s Theatre, Edinburgh
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It’s an image that seems a tad puzzling, given that the story of Aladdin is mainly set in Old Peking until we remember that the lair of the villain Abanazar is somewhere in Egypt – somewhere, in this case, with a fine view of the Pyramids.
Pantomime is an art-form much neglected, in recent decades, by some parents and theatre artists who imagine, quite wrongly, that it has had its day. Yet it’s an impressively complex old business; a rich patchwork of fairytale, spectacle, satire, noisy audience participation and rude cross-dressing.
And it remains true that if you want a jolly, wise and entertaining Christmas show that dishes out plenty of fun with a little beauty, then the panto is generally a far better bet than most children’s theatre, not least because it is specifically designed to bring the whole family together, and because its capacious format allows so much room for creative variation.
And so it is with this year’s glitzy version of Aladdin at the King’s, featuring the well-established Edinburgh panto threesome of Allan Stewart as the Dame, Grant Stott as the villain, and comedy genius Andy Gray as the dame’s boyfriend or sidekick, who always feels “no very well”.
For myself, I have a few problems with the super-brisk, under-two-hours variety format now adopted by the Edinburgh panto; I think they should be more careful with the storytelling, brush up their topical comedy, and reinstate the great final song-sheet with audience singalong, even if those traditional features add the odd 15 minutes to the show.
In a sense, though, these details matter relatively little, in a show where Widow Twankey – most elegantly costumed, this year, in a gorgeous series of traditional dresses – begins by belting out a stunning version of Lulu’s Shout and the fun only grows more intense from there on.
The villain rants, the audience roars, the lamp is lost and won again, Stewart and Gray excel themselves in the traditional “whit fur?” word-play routine, the young dancers from the Edinburgh Dance Academy win roars of applause, the King’s Theatre Orchestra plays up a storm and the final walkdown is radiant in eye-popping scarlet.
It could be more beautiful and its pace could be more gracious, but this is irresistible, glittering Christmas fun – and next year, they’ll be back to do it all again, as Stott steps up to play the wicked queen, in a new version of Snow White.
Seen on 06.12.14