Panto's magic formula: Michael Hurst's wacky pantomime is a work of
pure genie-us. Boom boom.
AK03: Aladdin at St James
By MICHELE HEWITSON
Bounce, thwack. Bounce, thwack.
That's the sound of the Widow Twankey falling down the stairs.
Actually, that was the sound of
Michael Hurst, pretending to be the Widow Twankey, falling down the
stairs. This was so deliciously funny that she/he did it again. And
This is one of the delights of
the panto: see that sight gag? Now see it again. And just one more time
to make sure it was as funny as it was the first time. It was.
Hurst's production of Aladdin--at
the St James until October 4--is so delightful that you could easily
see it again.
It operates on a number of levels.
There are terrible puns. The Widow Twankey, after a fight with an ironing
board, announces, "Well, I think that qualifies me for the ironman competition."
A beat for the groans. "The final decision will be made by the board."
There are terrible songs. "Maybe
he appeals to me, or I've had too much muesli." There are the little
sideways digs for the adults. Wishee-Washee is tardy. He caught the
train. "Britomart? No wonder you're late."
Alison Wall, magnificently, terrifyingly
hamming it up in the fakest beard you're likely to see outside a school
play, as the Uncle Abenazar, asks, "What brings us to these parts? We've
got lousy agents."
You can see enough of the strings
to allow the kids to become caught up in the magic that the theatre
works. When Wishee-Washee (John Brough) goes through the wringer, a
flattened Wishee-Washee suit is produced. He has to be blown up with
a bicycle pump; you can see him creep in behind. You can hear the kids
whispering, or shouting, with delight at the sheer excitement at spotting
what those naughty actors get up to when they think you're not looking.
You can see the flying harness
in the bottom-of-the-Yellow-Sea scene. None of this detracts from the
magic - actually, it enhances the sense of being inside a secret world
where strange things, nonsensical things, make perfect sense.
Strange things happen - even scary
things can happen -but in this place they are made normal, and not so
scary, by giving them silly names. The Genie is called Bevan. The Dragon
Queen (also played by Wall) is called Deirdre.
The cast is universally, enthusiastically,
terrific. But Hurst's Widow Twankey, the busty washerwoman with knobbly
knees and a voice as rough as the widow's hands after she's done her
washing in "sulphuric acid, porridge and cocoa", stands out. So does
Wall: her comic timing is superb and her transformation from the dreaded
Dragon Queen to a frightful housewife from some suburb somewhere in
the 1950s is a truly scary sight.
If you can't find a kid to take,
go anyway. Hurst's Aladdin is made by a sorcerer. It's the sort of stuff
that makes you believe that carpets can fly - and that theatre can take
you on a thrilling and magical ride.