This is the final stretch! In the ultimate working week of the year one can feel business drawing to a close. There has been an abundance of treats shared around our office this season; we have decorated desks (including fairy lights) and a nonstop run of social events in advance of what seems to be a mass exodus out of the city to family celebrations over the festive break. While the air is much colder, people’s spirits are much brighter and despite the political doom and gloom surrounding us, there is a jolly atmosphere.
I’m most looking forward to catching up with special friends over the holiday and few quiet pyjama days where my only responsibility will be to relax. Quite different from the warm Christmas celebrations of my youth under the African sun where, as kids sans any cooking responsibility, we spent the day playing in the garden and the swimming pool. Christmas dinner was more often than not eaten al fresco as the moon rose late in the evening with the feint scent of my mum’s flowering frangipani bush delicately perfuming the twilight.
Now living in the frozen north, festive traditions tend to have a more indoor theme; nestling in front of fireplaces for board games and family films is more of a standard. It is also traditionally pantomime season in theatres, complete with over the top villains dressed like drag queens and audience participation exciting the young with wonder and enjoyment. I can’t say I’ve been to a panto for many years, I struggle to remember the last one I saw, but months ago I did go see a musical in the West End that should have been one.
It was during the summer that my cousin and her boyfriend travelled through London for a brief visit. I was super excited to get to see them, they are based in New Zealand so the occasion to catch up in person is rare and cherished. Their time being limited, my cousin suggested we have dinner and take in a show – an excellent idea. Being the tourists, I let them choose which show they wanted to see, since the evening was about spending time together more than anything else. I was amused by their fun choice of Aladdin.
The show was not a depiction of the original Arabian folk tale, but an interpretation of one of my favourite Disney films. I wondered how they would achieve the level of endearing humour of the late great Robin Williams whose legendary portrayal of the Genie remains unrivalled, and what about that magic carpet scene? The audience seemed over excited as the boisterous overture inspired claps and squeals akin to a gig and not a stage show.
While a certain level of ‘over the top’ was to be expected, I found this extravaganza of a production a little cringe worthy. I didn’t quite understand why the characters were all played with broad American accents, to varying degrees of success, and the scripted humour fell so flat at times it gave an impression the writers didn’t even try. It was still a really fun show, but I do feel however they should have just gone full panto with it.
The cave of wonders set (where Aladdin finds the lamp) was so opulent it elicited gasps from the audience, and throughout the show there was much glitz, pyrotechnics and fantastic set changes as familiar lyrics from the film songs were repeated by most of those in the room. The production value was really high and it was slickly executed. The crowning glory being the technically marvellous flying carpet scene which was the most impressive special effect I’ve seen on stage. The beautiful sequence however couldn’t mask the fact the show was all style and wafer thin substance.
During the interval my biggest chuckle was provided. Finding our pre-ordered refreshments we caught site of a cameraman in the packed foyer. Overhearing them being asked what they were filming, I heard a partial reply along the lines of a programme for Channel 4 (I think). The joke being, years before, my cousin and I had gone to a sing along screening of The Sound of Music film together, dressed in wimples and rosary beads, as you do. We could only find seats together in the front row of the cinema, which meant the cameraman for a documentary being filmed on the night (we discovered when we arrived) with Sue Perkins got some clear shots of us singing along with much enthusiasm. (Click here and watch the first two minutes) We didn’t think much of this until others saw said BBC documentary about the Von Trapp family months later and let us know we were on screen a couple of times. Considering this was the second time my cousin and I were surprised by cameras in public set off a gurgle of giggles we struggled to stifle.
I must admit this show will not go down on a favourites list for me, less Aladd-in and more Alad-don’t, I would recommend it though to anyone who loves a pantomime at any time of the year. The evening was still fantastic fun due to the wonderful company I got to share it with and the hilarious memories created. Proof it’s not the wrapped gifts that make Christmas special, but the gift of time spent with loved ones.