What ain’t we got? We ain’t got dames apparently.
Even if the principal boy is no longer played by a woman, we never see a slosh scene, health and safety prevents sweets being thrown into the auditorium and the song sheet seems to be generally lost to the past there is no danger of dame-flatlining here. Tradition is kept gloriously intact with an array of outrageous costumes and wigs inhabited by the wonderful Matthew Kelly, proving that there is nothing quite like a panto dame.
Over recent years this theatre has introduced an array of overseas-born stars dipping their toes (mostly) successfully into the genre. The headliner here is another newbie, though not an imported one, Wandsworth born Josephine Grace Brand is giving us her Genie of the Ring.
She plays a grumpy slave who refuses to call whoever is in possession of the magic ring her master, yet despite her expected sardonic asides and self-deprecation there is a feeling Brand hasn’t quite found her panto legs yet, and this isn’t just a reference to her dancing. Her schtick, to make you feel as though she’d really be somewhere else, is a bit too successful and doesn’t work in this context.
As expected, David Badella, who received an Olivier Award for his devil in Jerry Springer the Opera makes a supremely hissable villain, Abanazer, Shaheen Jafargholi is a splendid Genie of the Lamp who can’t stop singing and there’s a spirited Aladdin from Oliver Thornton. Alan Committie initially seems a bit of a wishy-washy Wishee Washee, but is so good when he gets some young children (one was only four) up on stage for “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” earlier misgivings are forgotten. Well, maybe not quite since we’ve mentioned it.
Given that in panto anything can happen, it may be pedantry to ask why are the Peking Police Force (Britain’s Got Talent’s immodestly titled dance group Flawless) not dressed in character but wearing suits for their gyrations for most of the show? And why do some of the audience feel the necessity to scream when watching them? Do they believe themselves to be in the audience of X Factor or BGT? As impressive as their acrobatics are they seem a bit restricted by the space. Pantos – like languages – evolve with the age, but Phil’s a bit old-school with spesh acts, give him a vent act, a magician or a plate-spinner any day.
And when a screen descended as the performance began Phil thought we were in for an early song sheet. But no, instead we have to suffer a series of filmed adverts. Economics presumably. Is it too much to hope this isn’t the start of a depressing new panto trend?
Phil, of course, not being up with current popular music, failed to recognise most of the pop tunes performed at ear-splitting levels throughout the show, so it was some relief when Kelly’s Widow Twankey led a rousing “Step in Time”.
Fortunately the show comes from prolific panto penman, Eric Potts, so there’s plenty of jokes both old and new, topical and local references, a very good Andrew Lloyd Webber gag and a couple of hilariously filthy ones which will go over the heads of children, or perhaps not? Who can tell these days?
Director Ian Talbot keeps things moving along nicely. The best moments are an enjoyably ridiculous punning section, a slapstick laundry scene and an absurd ballet performance and all involve Kelly camping sublimely.
The case for the dame has been successfully made. Reports of her death have been exaggerated.