“I’m anybody’s for a pint of semi-skimmed and a walnut yoghurt”
Coming out of Puss in Boots, I said this will be the last panto I see this year. Oh no it wasn’t… The New Wimbledon has built up a reputation to rival the Lyric Hammersmith and the Hackney Empire in London pantomimes, producing slickly professional productions starring high-profile names such as David Hasselhoff, Dame Edna and last year, Priscilla Presley. This year though, the celebrity wattage is homegrown in the form of Jo Brand, who takes the role of the Genie of the Ring in Aladdin.
And with someone who actually understands what pantos are all about (Presley’s air of bemusement at the whole shebang was hilarious), the dynamic of the show feels like a properly old-school affair. Brand’s hugely dry wit makes her perhaps too laconic a presence for the kids but she certainly makes the adults laugh, the presence of two Britain’s Got Talent acts lends a variety feel to the whole affair and in Matthew Kelly’s Widow Twankey, there’s a game dame indeed.
It makes for a fascinating combination, one that isn’t always 100% successful to be honest given the completely different gears in which the performers are operating. As funny as Brand is, she doesn’t really fit into the ensemble; Kelly’s grandstanding is funny but it is left to Alan Committie’s Wishee Washee to do the interaction with the kids and he might just be overplaying it a little with the enthusiasm. But there’s much to enjoy here too.
Oliver Thornton and Claire-Marie Hall’s Aladdin and Princess Jasmine are a riot, their chemistry strong if platonic; David Bedella’s Abanazar a fun villain and street dance group Flawless are made to work for their supper with a number of appearances but always remaining impressive and a clever way to fill the stage. By comparison, Shaheen Jarfargholi feels under-used as the singing Genie of the Lamp but with pyrotechnics and corny jokes aplenty, it remains a strong panto.