Hallam & Handsworth Theatre Company in Sheffield have built a reputation over past years for producing high quality, family-friendly pantomimes and this year’s production of Aladdin at the Sheffield Montgomery Theatre did not disappoint.
From the moment that the small but effective band, led by Scott Walker, stuck up the first chord and we met the characters of Chinatown sporting a wonderful range of colourful and stylised costumes, we knew that our evening was in safe hands and that we were in for a traditional, family treat.
It was a pleasure to spend the evening with this large and enthusiastic cast, aged from three years upwards, emphasising the company’s reputation as a family society and training ground for young people wanting to get involved in amateur and professional theatre.
The ‘rags to riches’ story of Aladdin is one that everyone knew well and favourite pantomime characters included the devilish villain, Abanazar, played with a sneering menace by Fraser Hirst, and the larger than life Widow Twankey as the traditional ‘dame’, with Matthew Walker commanding the stage in a variety of bold and riotous costumes and hairstyles.
Joseph Walker in the title role of Aladdin and Amy Roe-Parkin as the Princess So-Shi, with whom he falls in love, brought strong characters and fine singing to the stage, as well as one or two tender moments between the jokes and frivolity which made up most of the evening’s entertainment.
Producer, Steve Mather, had kept to a traditional pantomime format and expertly produced a slick show which included local and current references to raise a smile and keep all ages entertained. He kept the large cast moving well around the stage, dancing and singing to a wide selection of traditional pantomime songs and chart hits, supported by Hayley Wilbourne’s creative choreography that allowed young and old to dance alongside each other.
The story moved smoothly from a Peking Street to a secret, jewelled cave via palaces and Widow Twankey’s laundry, the stage, lighting and sound team effectively creating each location without undue intrusion, so enhancing the audience’s enjoyment of the story.
Slapstick humour was brought to the audience through Gareth Carson’s Wishee-Washee, as Widow Twankey’s bumbling ‘other’ son, and the two well-meaning but constantly put-upon (and slightly dopey) policemen, PC Ping and PC Pong, Sally Brown and Debbie Mather bossing and singing as they tried to maintain order on behalf of their down-at-heel Emperor, Robert Taylor at his comedic best.
The large group of children and teenage performers in this cast confidently appeared in many scenes alongside the adults as they showcased their theatrical skills, but sparkled most brightly in their own Jewel Ballet, deep inside the cave.
Finally, no production of Aladdin, or rub of a lamp, would be complete without the Slave of the Ring (Beth Dray) and the Genie of Lamp (Duncan Milner) who arrived in a flash of light (or two) to intervene.
The evening finished with an audience participation sing-along and a colourful and energetic happy ending – what more could you want from an evening out!