Aladdin Panto Dec 2010

So I love Pantomime. To me it is the highest form of art, stemming from Italian Commedia dell’arte and with its use of male actors playing female characters it’s probably closest to the Shakespearean way of bringing plays onto the stage with an all male cast. That also goes for the constant interaction with the audience – preferably a rather young audience – and the extempore that is inevitably a part of this interaction. To a lesser actor this might mean losing concentration and failing miserably, but to someone seasoned enough not to be deterred by it it’s obviously just as great fun as for the audience.

That said – Aladdin is a Pantomime with John Barrowman in the lead.

And that could already be the end of the review. Because it says everything. Because this man owns the stage from the second he appears on it. He includes his co players into his antics, guides them through rough patches and is able to laugh at himself when he’s taking the brunt of their jokes every once in a while. I love his talent.

But then, that wouldn’t be a fun review, now, would it?

Therefore: the first to arrive is Bad Guy Abanazar, the wizard (Pete Gallagher, who is fabulous as always) who wants world domination (what else) and all its riches (duh) and asks the Enchantress Sherazade (the amazingly beautiful and talented Jill Armour) to help him achieve this. She points him to China (to One Long Poo) to search for the Chosen One (indeed!) to search for a lamp only he can find, which will then grant Abanazar everything he wants.

The show starts with a very cool display of all the dancers (Greg Barrowman amongst them – the next generation  in the form of a clear and strong voiced nephew coming to the fore!) with Aladdin in the middle standing on a cool red trike. At this point he’s wearing black velvet pants and a red and yellow jerkin that’s rather flashy with high red boots. “Let’s get this party started” is the first song that sets the pace of the show. It turns out that he is already searched for by the police (the Krankies, after Janette’s accident and six years of no theatre they are back for the first time and absolutely hilarious) because he dared to climb the walls of the palace and steal an apple – he also looked at the princess and fell in love with her, the latter an offense that will cost his head if he is captured. There’s fun about his american accent and his time travelling and of course – who am I? “John Barrowman” – breaking out into his trademark giggles – no, not today I’m not… – about his identity.

Then the Krankies arrive – in a space ship – joking about the Daleks running a hotel on Mars “accommodate, accommodate” – at this point everybody is shaking with fits of laughter.

Aladdin plots to talk to the princess – he fakes an accident with the Ricksha of his mother (the Dame in the play is Iain Stuart Robertson who takes on Ian McKellen’s part) and indeed – the princess sees him and falls in love with him – because he’s so gorgeous – “I wrote that part!” – as he is smiling at her to the sound of a clear bell making PING!

Unfortunately the police now arrives to arrest Aladdin – the guy with the American accent – and the Krankies are milking the scene to hoots of laughter. Janette is headbutting Aladdin – as she/he is so small she gets him right in the nuts. As she charges again, Aladdin holds her off with his arm, but she clubs him on the head. He’s unconscious and slapstick ensues as the emperor arrives to witness the beheading of the guy with the American accent.

Luckily the hit on the head has triggered Aladdins Scottish roots and he speaks deepest Glaswegian when he finally wakes up, therefore being released!

Now Abanazar has arriven in China and finds the Widow Twankey – he promises to marry her in order to gain access to her son as Aladdin is the only one able to claim the magic lamp for him.

Aladdin, trying to get rich fast (we’ve asked, begged and checked for money. work??? eeek! w is still years away on the alphabet) in order to be able to marry the princess, agrees to go with the Magician, who declares himself “you’ll never had a friend like me” in a brilliant duet with Aladdin which apparently is from Aladdin the Movie (it had bugged me for weeks till I asked the drummer where they’d taken it! – Pete and John are just so marvellous together. There is a scene in which Abanazar tries to hypnotise Aladdin into coming with him and the two men are goofily milking the scene (you’ve eaten too much, – no, I just farted – your knee is knobby – that is not my knee – that ain’t my knee either! – I tried to catch you in that position since we’ve opened – I so used to have a career once — and yes, all the innuendo is just that – innuendo!) and finally much 3D fun ensues.

The 3D action is amazing – well worth the money spent developing it. There’s a bird flying, a waterfall, rocks coming at you, then stars, creepy crawlies (well actually it’s bats – it’s very batty up here tonight) and finally a really huge ugly spider that is sparkling and swinging and suddenly flies directly at you which was the  only time I actually closed my eyes. Arachnophobic, what can I say… And then the lamp. And the Jinn. Who is hilarious!

By this time I was flushed and my make up history from all the laughing, and best friends with my neighbours who were just as crazily and loudly screaming as I was. Our inner children had already claimed us again – brilliant!

There’s also a beautiful duet with Sherazade “Believe” which is superb! And then Aladdin appears for the last part of the song – and flies up and up with the melody of the song and over the audience and back into the darkness of the stage with the last notes of the song. The house goes down in screams.

So Aladdin comes back to One Long Poo (now he wears silver velvet pants with sparkles and a brilliantly beautiful shiny silver jacket with lots of diamonds on it. He’s riding on a huuuuge silver elephant and while climbing down with the help of two of his dancers there’s loads of innuendo again. They proceed to joke about him looking like Anton DuBeke and the poor tusker being Ann Widdicomb (sp?).

And all of a sudden “Prince” Aladdin is a perfect son in law for the emperor. So they get hitched – amongst more innuendo and in a sparkly light blue fancy suit with loads of gems and silver stitching to match the princess’ wedding dress and the rest of the guests at the reception.

But all that alerts Abanazar who had abandoned Aladdin in the cave – he wants to claim the lamp. Therefore he charms the old lamp out of the princess’ hands in exchange to new lamps and then – as now he is the owner of the lamp – captures the princess with the help of the pissed off Jinn and brings her to his lair.

The widow, Aladdin, the crankies, the emperor and Sherazade run after them – another brilliant 3D adventure that leads us to a snake,  the bottom of the sea, “look out, it’s Andrew Lloyd Webber” when a huuge crocodile swallows us all, then on a magic carpet over the desert and around a large scorpio, through an Arabian tent dwelling and finally to the magician’s lair.

There Aladdin rescues his princess with the help of a sonic screwdriver – “I got that from my doctor – who? yes, that’s him!” – and the Enchantress turns the Magician into a good guy who runs off into the park for some harmless fun.

Then there’s the big finale with Aladdin wearing  a golden jacket with red applications to match the cheerfulness of the last scene! And then with a final bow and a Captain Jack salute  it’s actually over. sob.

Now the songs are amazing – Pete Gallagher in his duet with John “best friends” they are absolutely awesome! John duets with princess Jasmine (Rosa O’Reilly) that is very sweet and cute – “Rule the world” and I am melting just thinking about it! -, the Krankies have their turn with “picking on me” (Janette) and “Funny Boy” (Ian) and there’s a bit of Abba and even “I will walk 500 Miles” in Scottish that had us all singing along! love, love love love it.

The dancers raise the roof with “Yes” (I think it’s from Dirty Dancing, but am not quite sure) and there’s a fun number in Widow Twankey’s washing salon where an Aladdin Doll and four pink Gorillas make an appearance too. ( don’t ask – it’s hilarious when the Gorillas dance the CanCan and then chase the police 😉 )

Oh, and there’s a guest spot for Ozzie Osbourne and Susan Boyle too – complete with a whistle that blocks out the expletives from Ozzie and … wait for it … a pussy for SuBo (I’m so not gonna touch that; You haven’t every anyway… and the house goes down in laughter).

ADDENDUM

When I came back over christmas  I was in for a surprise – the show had changed a tiny bit – not much, mind you, just some jokes were different, some innuendos added, some deleted. The Krankies had changed their last routine a bit – now mentioning the falling of the bum at some shop (I love that shop! keeps the masses out of Sainsbury’s … that’s my favorite joke! – quoting Jimmy Krankie here)  – just enough to keep both the actors and multiple watchers on their toes and interested.

and then there are the mishaps. Now please do not take this the wrong way: I really think that the way actors handle the little things that go bump on the night is a testimony to their skills. Because something is bound to be going bump on the night (literally too – I remember a rather hilarious scene in Hamlet when on the last show all of a sudden the lights went out – power failure – and stayed out for a minute till emergency power kicked in. you could hear Hamlet giggle and then continue with his speech as if he was still in full view. it’s a rather dark play anyway… LOL)

Now I hear that one of the little girls Aladdin has up the stage to present them with the magic lamp quipped “it’s plastic!!” which had the audience and John in stitches for minutes. I myself observed a young man (maybe 4) admitting to John that “my auntie fancies you a lot”  to which John after a fit of giggles answered “I see your auntie has great taste then!” This time a little princess (who was very lively and having the time of her life while she was sitting in front of me – very cute!!) was totally shellshocked when on stage – so John fell into his scottish accent to draw her out a little.

But the best of all:

The scene where Aladdin’s supposed to rescue the princess who’s in a cage in Abanazar’s lair. There’s a rather lengthy musical scene with Abanazar until finally Jasmine is alone in her cage and frantically cries “I need a superhero!” and cries again Aladdin – and again Aladdin …. Aladdin… but who doesn’t show up is Aladdin. And Jasmin’s face gets increasingly … worried. Until he finally runs in – all in laughs “that’ll teach me you NEVER go to the loo when a song is on!” – the whole audience including Jasmine is roaring with laughter at that point. So to “unspoil” the show he says: “so let’s start this scene again” – comes in again and does it properly!

A brilliant way to deal with bump-going things on the night! And a testimony to just how John deals with mishaps…

 

another update from the shows on christmas day:

Christmas day started with the fact that they had – due to the cold – technical
problems with the 3D equipment and didn’t let us into the auditorium until 1.30.
At that point we weren’t even given glasses; so the show started half an hour
late (and with only one hour in between shows – not good)  –
the show proceeds with its usual antics to the duet scene between Pete and
John (never had a friend like me) and all of a sudden Aladdin tells us that
magic had already happened – and 3D works again. But we had no glasses!! so they start to give out glasses, while Pete and John on stage are starting to interact with the kids in the auditorium and bring on the tech-guy on who saved the day, till John asks “who has no glasses?”. We raise our hands like good little schoolkids and he runs down the stairs, grabs a bucket and passes out glasses himself!!
So in no time at all we were all set and the play could commence. Brilliant!
(the kiddies were offering me chocolates!!!! and the moms were offering other
things but I can’t tell!! LOL)
After that we were singing Jingle Bells and that was really brilliant, too.
So we ran out, got us some coffee and came back as there was barely 20 mins
between shows.

Second show. We get glasses, so everything works. The show starts out
brilliantly and commences in a fantastic way and John is his usual bubbly self
and gives his usual 200 percent of his energy. 3D works like a charm and the
duet between John and Pete especially is effing brilliant (no other words for
it, just effing brilliant!) . Then Jimmy Krankie is Lady Gaga and her microphone
breaks, her voice is out. within seconds, John – as if it was part of the play –
comes out in his sparkly silver suit with a mike in his hand and starts dancing
along with Janette as if it was part of the show! She can’t grab the mike as she has to have her fingers on the air-supply for her balloons. (don’t ask, it’s hilarious!!) The two were hilarious (they could leave that in and it wouldn’t seem wrong or staged! He was brilliant)
To end it we all sing Silent Night (to which I only know the German words and so
I sing them, raising a few eyebrows probably and not caring) and then “a fast
one” – Jingle Bells. And then everybody leaves and all have these huuuge smiles
on their faces.
Stage door. We wait, I get a hug from Pete Gallagher whom I really adore – such
a fab voice – who tells us that the take out food was late to boot!!
And then John comes. He immediately recognises the two disabled children who are waiting from their places in the auditorium, and takes the time to take pics
with them even though Scott is waiting and he should be on his way to a family
reception.
Julie hands out french chocs (ohhh chocs, I’ll get so fat! -snort, yeah, right – ) and I tell him what I feel – that I have never admired any actor or
entertainer as much as him – after what he did through both shows – and the man
blushes!!!! And tells us – they had barely 15 mins between shows, nothing to eat
so they order chinese take out and shovel it in in between numbers! and then
emergency nurse had to come bec. they’d added shellfish to the wonton soup and he needed an epi between two numbers!!!!!!!! and we all know he’s allergic to all
kinds shellfish/crabs/shrimps.
you wouldn’t have realised that from just watching!!! And he joked “that’s my
nephew’s son rubbing shrimp over my face as he’s my understudy!!!” LOL we were all laughing, but also dead worried and so very happy he has Scott and his family to look after him.
but why do I even tell this: I have never in all my years of theatre obsession
encountered such a brilliant pro like John. He is absolutely AMAZING!!! What he does for colleagues and the show is more than just giving 200 percent, it’s his
whole being! He honestly IS the show he is part of. I am truly in AWE of this
man’s professional attitude – he is a true role model. Very impressed, me.
Very!

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Deathtrap Nov 2010

london west end

What a brilliant brilliant crime story. Jonathan Groff from Glee fame is Clifford, a new and fresh crime writer who sends his first novel to seasoned – and “blocked” writer Sidney Bruhl who lives with and off his wife Myra as his books no longer sell and a new one is nowhere near in sight.

So when Clifford’s  brilliant script arrives in Bruhl’s reclusive country house, it is almost like a secret wish has come true – no-one knows about the new author, the script hasn’t been sent to anyone else and it’s a sure success. Therefore Sidney offers his “help” and sends for Clifford, intent on finding out if he will be able to steal the script.

I will not give away anything more of the play, other than that nothing is the way it seems and that the only constant in the play is the novel that seems to take on a life of its own. In shocking turns and twists everybody has his/her fair share of cruel deeds to do and I admit that I was startled out of my seat more than once.

It’s a brilliant “two-heart-attacks”-play I thoroughly enjoyed and loved – with witty dialogue in best screwball comedy tradition and enough surprises to last at least three lesser plays. A fun evening was had by all!

The Country Girl Nov 2010

london west end

Martin Shaw finally is back to London’s West End. And with the marvellous Jenny Seagrove to boot! There are not enough exclamation marks to insert here in the world! And so it was no surprise that I booked the next available – and affordable – flight to come to London one cold and frosty day.

The Country Girl by Clifford Odette is – despite its large cast – basically a two actor’s play; the stronger the leading couple, the more intense the impact of the story they tell. It’s all about Frank Elgin – literally -, a washed out actor battling alcoholism and his fears of failure in the face of a last chance that came when a young director, Dodd, demanded him for a leading part in a new play. And so Elgin is once again on stage, trying to remember his lines, trying to cope with what he perceives as injustices or mere inconveniences. And of course he cannot say anything to the director, the writer, the producer himself as he wants to stay the marvellous leading man, the stage hero who has merely fallen on bad fortune for a while. It doesn’t keep him from complaining to his long suffering wife Georgie – the girl he took from the “country” (the term standing not only for a geographic point in the world but also for “not in the business”, for “less educated” and less suave and refined than he and his theatre friends) and married her.

And it is up to her to fight his battles – she is the one talking to producers, the writer, the director in order to face their wrath and their hostility, playing scapegoat and whipping boy for the star to make her husband look good. When director Dodd finally sees through these games, he falls hard for the country girl, finding a smart, educated and fiercely loyal woman who battles her own demons without any help from the outside.

It is when Georgie, too, finds she has feelings for Dodd that the almost sickly symbiotic dependency between the actor and his wife comes to the fore. Both need the battles they fight with each other and with the outside world. It is the only kind of happiness they ever have and will experience. The great Frank Elgin will always need someone to stand up for him so that he can shine on stage and his country girl will always be the one needing him to shine – even at the price of devoting her own life solely to this one purpose.

I read a review prior to seeing the play where some long time fan of Martin Shaw’s complained that he seemed old and washed out to her. And indeed he was – it is part of the play that he look tired and desperate and slightly drunk and unkempt. For the time of the play he really IS the needy, insecure actor who never grew up, who at times needs a mother more than a lover. And Jenny Seagrove is the quiet, silently suffering and yet strong counterpart who keeps him in line and in charge and has his back no matter what the consequences foro herself. These two actors together on stage are simply amazing. There is a crackling tension between these two that reaches out to the audience and draws them in and makes them question every decision made on stage – and to a certain degree even makes you as the one watching question some decisions you yourself have made lately.

Stagedoor: Martin Shaw is a “late arriver” which means he doesn’t have the time to sign when he’s rushing in to work. He did very graciously sign after the performance even though he didn’t come out after the matinee I saw. Jenny Seagrove arrived on bike, very unglamorous and plain (her transformation into Georgie on stage therefore even more stunning)  and patiently talked to everyone waiting while signing cards and programs. She is one incredibly classy actress and incredibly talented, too.