Monday, December 12, 2005

REVIEW: Aladdin (Gaiety, Dublin)

Panto reviewing is closer to wine writing that most theatre criticism: the most important question here is always ‘was it a good year,’ because the question of whether you like panto or not will probably have been solved some time ago if you are over 10 years of age. The good news for the 2005/6 harvest, is that the Gaiety has turned in a vintage Aladdin.

Everything seems to have changed up a gear this year from costumes, to special effects to performances and the result is something that is much more palatable for grown ups, while providing shed-loads of fizz, pop and awe for the pre-teens.

Michael Grennell’s sulphurous baddie, Abanazer, does a nice job of stirring the kids into a heaving mass of hissing resentment before the curtain is even up, and the central pair of George “Mondo” McMahon’s Aladdin and Karl Harpur’s Elvis-impersonating genie have a kind of puppyish energy that keeps things rolling at a pleasant pace.

In place of the usual litany of tortuous contemporary gags, director, Carole Todd seems to have dipped into early comedies (which themselves presumably lift from vaudeville and Yiddish theatre) for some great old routines. A Keystone-cops-alike chorus falls about the stage at regular intervals, a substantial number of plates are smashed (to the delight of 5 year olds throughout the house) while Harpur and Gavin Armstrong’s Window Twanky perform a crisp and very funny recreation of Abbot and Costello’s ‘Who’s On First’ sketch. And why not? If it’s good, it’s good.

Better still, most of the elements which have made the Gaiety panto of recent years difficult to stomach have been pruned away. The excessive in-show advertising (which was never less than nauseating) is all but gone, the gratuitous live ads replaced by less disruptive plugs incorporated into the script. It is just so much easier to see the magic of theatre when there are commercial breaks every few minutes.

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