Aladdin at King's Theatre, Glasgow
- Gareth K Vile
- 7 December 2018
Spectacular pantomime that tries to move with the times
Like many of the traditional plots for pantomime, Aladdin contains plenty of pitfalls for contemporary sensibilities: set in China, with an Egyptian villain, it has been the host for plenty of inappropriate jokes that would now be regarded as racist, and its romantic narrative idealises love founded in little more than social and financial prejudice. Nevertheless, Alan McHugh's script makes concessions to changing values: Empress Ming (Anne Smith) replaces the male emperor as the tyrannical parent, Widow Twankey (Elaine C Smith) is no sex-obsessed older woman, Princess Jasmine (Frances Mayli McCann) gets involved in her rescue from Abanazar (George Drennan). A few slips into more regressive interludes – the female chorus' costumes are occasionally inappropriately revealing for a family show – only emphasises how the pantomime is battling with its own history and progressive modern culture.
But the traditional strength of the pantomime – the interplay between the leads – is impressively retained with Smith and Johnny Mac (Wishee Washee) building a strong chemistry and delivering the familiar patter and word-play, while Drennan gets a nice balance between menace and absurdity in the villain. Paul-James Corrigan is a revelation as the Imperial Palace Guard, working the caricature of the officious and blood-thirsty jobs-worth into a sympathetic ally of Twankey in the second act. The usual references to Glasgow, the singalong at the end, the stupidity of Wishee Washee and the bland heroism of Aladdin (Lee Dillon-Stuart) are delivered with aplomb, with Mac reigning in his usual excesses to deploy his catch-phrase at the right moments: in the past, he has thrown in 'I'm enjoying myself' whenever the pace begins to lag, but his partnership with Elaine C Smith is a far more stable and consistent double-act.
While some of the familiar routines feel rushed and rote, the banter and pop references keep the action flowing to the finale, and after a few years in which the King's pantomime has struggled to find a space in the packed festive season, Aladdin shows signs of reimagining the Christmas spectacle in ways that holds onto the traditions but recognises that times are changing.
King's Theatre, Glasgow, until Sun 6 Jan.