I am a big admirer and enjoyer of pantomine. As I sit, or sometimes sleep, through the third act of King Lear or an Ibsen play, I sometimes think of the exuberance and audience enjoyment of pantomime which, although many of the stories come from the Grimm brothers, is a peculiarly British institution.
Yesterday I invited a friend and her 5 year son to Aladdin in the Wimbledon theatre. It is no small local theatre, it can seat 1600 and has a massive auditorium. The panto starred Jo Brand and Matthew Kelly and was directed by Ian Talbot, whom I had known for many years as managing director of the Open Air Theatre Regents Park.
I would never denigrate panto. The actors have to deliver two performances a day and working a young audience is never easy. My friend’s little boy was so in awe that he remained standing and was involved with the familiar audience response of “he ‘s behind you!” It’s an excellent introduction to theatre and I was both amazed and impressed that her son remained engaged for two and a half hours. You get dancing, singing and gags, so the cast is stretched. The dry delivery of Jo Brand (as the Genie) did not really work, but Matthew Kelly (Widow Twankey) was a tour de force and worthy of the great female impersonators like Danny La Rue. David Bedella as Abanazar also caught the eye.
Like the best Spielberg, a panto brings joy to kiddies whilst the adults are never bored. My friend was impressed by both the light show choreography and general standard of performance – at the end she was dancing with her son in the arms. It was a thoroughly enjoyable, satisfying and uplifting theatrical experience.