Review: Aladdin panto at the Oxford Playhouse

A couple of months ago I saw the flyer for this year’s Oxford Playhouse panto, Aladdin. As I glanced over the familiar Korky Paul illustrations I noticed something was amiss. Where was Peter Duncan’s name? He, of Blue Peter fame, who has written and directed every Oxford Playhouse panto I’ve seen. He, who is personally responsible (not that he knows it), for my panto entertainment. A quick ferret through the internet and I discover he’s touring in Hairspray, the musical. How was this allowed? And what does this mean for the Playhouse panto?

I felt a little more reassured after Googling the replacement writer and director, Steve Marmion. He’s a panto veteran and has already co-written an earlier version of Aladdin. Embracing the change of team we visited on opening night; read on to find out what we thought.

Kiran Sonia Sawar plays the role of Princess Rose with gusto and a strong Scottish accent. She knows her mind and isn’t going to be married off to any old prince. Aladdin (Adam Samuel-Bal) is a rather vain character who eventually realises that boasting he’s a prince isn’t going to please the Princess. Abazanezer (Paul Barnhill) played an entertaining baddie and did a rather fine Kate Bush impression. Although the thunder clap and lighting effects that accompanied the appearance of Abazanezer proved too scary for the youngster behind me!

After a shaky start I really began to enjoy the show. My highlight of the first half was Widow Twanky’s (Nigel Betts) striptease walk through the desert to find Aladdin’s cave. I won’t give too much away but if you’re going watch out for the child on the bicycle.

The second half opened in the cave. I loved how Aladdin and Widow Twanky were positioned in the pile of rocks, they pulled some great faces during the scene. The Salt-N-Pepa combo song was rousing and I enjoyed the Genie (David Rubin) dancing with sticks.

The stand out performance of the panto was Rochelle Rose, the Spirit of the Ring, singing Hello whilst Aladdin and Princess Rose floated about on a magic carpet. I’ve got to the stage of turning the radio to a different channel whenever that song comes on as I’ve heard it way too much. But the performance last night was stunning. My daughter, a huge Adele fan, suggested it was even better than the original.

I thought the overall choice of songs was excellent, although ‘Rub the ring’, supposedly a Tolkien reference, had my other half and I sniggering for the wrong reasons!

Widow Twanky had the usual variety of fun costumes. Her Little Pony outfit was only surpassed when she came on near the end riding a swan, a la Rod Hull. Her big pants provided handy storage for the sweet throwing and there were the usual birthday announcements, sing song and ‘It’s behind you’ scene. I don’t remember any ‘Oh no he isn’t, oh yes he is’ routine though.

There were niggles though. Wishee Washee, the dog, gets the audience to howl at regular intervals, which I know is all supposed to be part of the panto fun but my kids found it really annoying. There’s also a strange assortment of animals and a random duck appearing at various points which we just didn’t get; what was the point of them? And finally, there were lots of ladies and gentlemen in the seats as well as boys and girls; please remember us when speaking to the audience!

All of the supporting youngsters sang and danced with great energy; there was a street dance theme running through most of their performances and this was also reflected in the boy’s outfits. My daughter was most impressed with a girl performing from her school but there was probably an element of bias in this judgement!

I loved The Blues Brothers when I was younger so the final song, Shake your Tail Feather, was a treat. The audience were encouraged to stand up and join in and it was a fitting finale. Our verdict? Not as good as last year’s Beauty and the Beast (which was a classic) but still very enjoyable. Mr Marmion has proved a worthy successor to Peter Duncan. Go see.

Have you seen Aladdin at the Oxford Playhouse? What did you think?

More info:

  • Aladdin runs until Sunday 10th January 2016. Some dates are sold out but there’s still plenty of availability. Tickets cost from £15 and are available from the Oxford Playhouse website.

13 thoughts on “Review: Aladdin panto at the Oxford Playhouse”

  1. What a lovely Christmas family tradition. Smiling that you noticed the absence. School takes my lot to the Panto every year, so we try to do something different. This year its a concert. Not sure what they will make of it!

    1. Thanks Cheryl. I don’t normally notice when directors change but I think that because Peter Duncan was the Blue Peter presenter of my youth his name stood out more. Plus he usually sat in the audience on the opening night and he was easy to recognise.

      I hope you all enjoy the concert, happy Christmas!

    1. I didn’t get the point of the duck as it didn’t really move the story along. It felt like they were trying to find a part for a superfluous cast member!

  2. Gone to pantamine every year with grandchildren and always enjoyed it, buy O dear what a disappointment this year. The singing was poor and the plot non existent as mainly just singing. Seemed like an amateur production. The characters were not even likeable.

    1. Sorry you didn’t enjoy it Lyn. I liked the variety of songs although there were some stronger singing voices than others.

    2. Completely agree, I am a fan of Panto but this was shameful, everything was done on the cheap, there was no glamor or interesting scenery. Such a waste of money. Actually it was at times most distasteful, widow Twankey’s striptease!
      Give it a miss.

  3. I was very disappointed with Aladdin. I disliked the dame who told smutty jokes and instead of bloomers wore a grotesque costume to look like fat with a g string. The cave scene was awful. No gold treasure. Aladdin just went through a hole like Alice to get to the cave. The sing along was dreadful. Why choose Jailhouse Rock sung as quickly as possible and got rid of as soon as it could be. What a cheap shoddy show. What was the dog and duck about?

    1. It certainly sounds as if Aladdin isn’t as popular as previous Oxford Playhouse pantomimes – although my other half preferred this year’s one!

  4. Pantos are great fun. My little one was looking forward to seeing the dress the princess would wear. She was so disappointed there wasn’t one. Instead we had a Muslim in her everyday wear. Political correctness gone mad or just poor production, or both.

    1. Although Aladdin was originally set in China the Disney film version moved it to the Middle East, with the princess as a sultan’s daughter. I don’t think it’s political correctness, just the latter version of Aladdin.

  5. Last year’s beauty and the beast was fantastic so we had to take the kids back this year.
    It was an all-round disappointment for the whole family.
    There was a couple standout performances such as the spirit of the ring but I thought both Aladdin and princess perfect rose were both well below par.
    In places it felt extremely amateurish so much so that I felt awkward for the performers.
    The dame had nothing on last year’s dame and if anything was aimed more towards the older generation.
    Some of the jokes and songs just did not work at all as noted by the lack of audience participation.
    The only high point throughout was the magic carpet ride which was truly a wow moment.
    I will have to think long and hard before parting with my hard earned money for next year’s panto.

    1. Last year’s Beauty & the Beast was by far the best panto I’d ever seen so this one certainly had a lot to live up to. It definitely wasn’t as good but we still enjoyed it. I do hope that Peter Duncan comes back though!

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