British Theatre Guide
By Brad Fitt
Cambridge Arts Theatre
Review by Simon Sladen (2011)
The millennium brought with it the dawn of a new era, not only for the world, but for the Cambridge Arts Theatre too. Marking his tenth year of involvement with the Cambridge pantomime, Brad Fitt and his team have come up with yet another stunning festive treat, which rightly deserves its accolade as one of the best in the country.
This year’s Aladdin reunites Cambridge favourites Fitt, Julie Buckfield, Matt Crosby and James Hirst with some new friends in a production where everyone has an equal chance to shine. Aladdin is clearly a team effort and the actors support and work with one another, rather than jostle for the spotlight. This is extremely evident in the fun they appear to be having on stage; a happy company always makes for a happy show.
Last seen in panto at the Lyric, Hammersmith last year, Martyn Ellis makes a wonderfully comic Emperor, forced to sell noodles undercover in Peking in order to earn a much needed buck. Disguises play a key role in this Aladdin and in addition to Abanazer’s peddler outfit and the Emperor’s attempt at street trading, even Princess Poppy-Poo decides to join in the fun, donning a moustache to avoid marrying the rich Prince Nintendo Wii.
Whereas Aladdin often glimpses the Princess in the street, here he uncovers her after she applies for a job at the laundry incognito. Thanks to Health and Safety rules, her hat and moustache have to go and once revealed the two do what all Principal Boys and Girls do best: fall in love.
Princess Poppy-Poo, played by Danielle Eller, is a smiley royal, not too soppy or twee, and someone who all the little girls in the audience long to be. Her lover, Aladdin, is of that dying breed of thigh slapping female Principal Boys and Buckfield plays him as a perky scamp with a lot of leg.
In many ways this production is a traditionalist’s dream, with something for everyone. There’s nothing risqué and no padding, just a great story wonderfully told. Fitt’s tight script delivers plenty of plot and punning, supported by some delightful musical numbers and strong direction from Fitt.
The band really bring the music to life under the direction of Kelvin Towse and numbers are danced by yet another rarity in Pantoland – dancers with personality. It makes such a difference when the ensemble act and react to everything around them and don’t merely execute their moves with forced smiles.
We are even treated to a slapstick scene set in Twankey’s swanky washeteria. With Fitt and Crosby at the helm, the piece is in safe hands and puts a novel spin on the usual mangle sequence, with Wishee and Twankey sliding all over the place as they become embroiled in their new mechanised washing process.
Everything about the Cambridge pantomime oozes quality and care; from the cast and crew to the sumptuous sets and costumes courtesy of Imagine Theatre and Carry On Costumes respectively. The willow pattern finale is a fitting ending to a show which should be everyone’s cup of tea.
Cambridge’s festive treat isn’t half baked, too sweet or overcooked, but a pantomime pie filled with just the right blend of ingredients and cooked to perfection. This pantomime’s tickets sell like hot cakes, so be sure to snap yours up before they’re sold out for another year.
‘Aladdin’ plays until 16th January 2011
WOS Rating: Four stars
Sumptuous is one word that describes the visual aspect ofAladdin in the production by Brad Fitt, scripted by Fitt. Fitt also plays Widow Twankey, so it’s not surprising that the Dame’s role looms larger – in more senses than one – and has some of the best lines. Not to mention costumes.
Traditional is another adjective which applies, though this version of tradition comes with quirks. Danielle Ellis is the sweet-voiced and very enterprising Princess Poppy with Martyn Ellisas her father, an emperor teetering on the verge of national bankruptcy (cue some rather good jokes about money men and politicians). Widow Twankey’s offspring are Matt Crosby as Wishee Washee and Julie Buckfield in the title role – long-legged, pleasant-natured and definitely a no-nonsense sort of Principal Boy.
Ngo Ngofa is Ishtar, imprisoned in the magician’s ring but definitely an immortal of probity and resourcefulness. Jamie-Ray Hartshorne is a little more soft-centred as the Genie andJames Hirst is a glittering, dreadlocked Abanazer, revelling equally in his machinations and the audience’s reactions to them. There’s an excellent six-strong dancing chorus, supplemented by some delightful small children. Kelvin Towse is in the pit with three colleagues and serves up appropriate catchy tunes and rock numbers.
Published Wednesday 15 December 2010 at 16:50 by Simon Bamford
The team at the Arts in Cambridge have created a delightful pantomime for 2010.
The experienced writing partnership is full of fresh, original material, helped by a group of creative, talented actors.
Brad Fitt’s Dame Twankey is instilled with hilarious yet tasteful innuendo, while professional dancers and a chorus of slick child performers have both precision and personality. James Hirst’s Abanazar has a blackened soul, reminiscent of Captain Jack Sparrow.
Love interest comes in the shape of the traditional princess and our hero Aladdin, both played with wit and gusto by Danielle Eller and Julie Buckfield, while brother Wishee Washee has fine comic timing.
The upbeat score adds to the feel-good factor, complemented by the tremendously important crystal clear sound.
Olivier award-winning lighting designer Mike Robertson floods the stage with inventive lighting and the whole production is costumed with lavish couture.
The audience is immersed in energy, precision, wit and wonderment.
Sprinkled with magic and as sparkling as a fine champagne, the production received a spontaneous five-minute standing ovation, which speaks for itself.
EVERYTHING about this show glitters – and it is pantomime gold.From the opening of curtain until the fantastic finale, which has the audience on its feet dancing, the show fizzes with energy. The music has you swaying in your seat throughout the show.
This is a wonderful combination of a traditional pantomime with all the slapstick, fun and pizzazz – who wouldn’t get a kick out of Scott Ritchie’s choreography – laced through with hit-the-spot political and local jokes. It’s all there: the Guided Bus, the Coalition, when we weren’t laughing we were applauding – some of it they didn’t have to make up.
The plot is very now. The princess (a true West End leading lady, Danielle Eller) and her emperor father, the booming voiced, classically trained Martyn Ellis, are not too rich for Aladdin to marry her, they are too poor. The princess has to get a job in Widow Twankey’s laundry.
Brad Fitt, also the show’s writer and director, is the consummate dame with his rich, velvet voice and perfect deportment. With the help of some stunning costumes, he is a different woman in almost every scene: Catherine Zeta Jones, Lady Gaga, Ann Widdecombe……..His Twankey is full of panache (but you don’t hear him complain). I cannot think of anything better to find in a woman’s stocking.
Matt Crosby as a turbo-charged Wishee Washee excels himself with his verbal handstands. The wicked uncle Abanazer, played by James Hirst is actually a bit gorgeous. With his dreadlocks and pure annunciation, there is a touch of Johnny Depp about him. Mention should go too to Ngo Ngofa as Ishtar the genie of the ring with her beautiful singing voice and Jamie-Ray Hartshorne, the genie of the lamp, for being such a right-on geezer.
Stage principles apply even more meticulously to panto because so much is going on. This is a true ensemble performance and you can feel the relationships between the characters. I never doubted that the emperor and princess were father and daughter or that Widow Twankey, Wishee Washee and Aladdin (Julie Buckfield, vibrant as ever) were mother and sons. The entire cast created a delightful place to be – it’s a Christmas cracker.
Aladdin at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Sunday, January 16. Review by ANGELA SINGER
Cambridge Evening News
This year’s celebrated Arts Theatre pantomime takes us on a journey to exotic Peking, where the Emperor is determined to find a rich husband for his daughter.
Defying her father, as all good heroines should, the spirited, romantic Princess Poppy-Poo applies instead to work as a mangle handler in Widow Twankey’s Laundrette – knickers washed while you wait – where she falls in love with the Widow’s poor but plucky son, Aladdin.
Yet when Aladdin is sent on a quest to retrieve a mystical lamp for his questionable long-lost uncle, things take a turn, and Aladdin finds himself trapped within the dark, creepy cave, fearing he’ll never see his true love again.
A vibrant ensemble of characters, costumes and song-and-dance numbers help bring the story alive in true panto style, with Matt Crosby as Wishee Washee and Brad Fitt as Widow Twankey injecting some well-received local humour and contemporary references into proceedings.
As expected, Aladdin is packed with every kind of humour, from the clownish to the more sophisticated asides for the mums and dads.
But the real beating heart of the show is Brad Fitt as Widow Twankey, who commands the auditorium with natural, effortless ease. On press night, it’s an unsuspecting John in row C who is picked as Twankey’s internet love-interest, receiving winks and nods throughout the evening; while the hilarious ‘Washateria’ scene with Twankey and Wishee Washee reminded me never to undervalue the power of slapstick.
Julie Buckfield, a familiar face for Cambridge panto regulars, is excellent in the role of the brave and cheery thigh-slapping hero, and Danielle Eller makes a triumphant return as the excitable Princess, bringing youthful energy and sweetness to the role.
Meanwhile, amongst the chorus of adorable Panto Babes are surely the panto stars of the future.
It’s impossible not to be charmed by this joyful, hilarious helping of Christmas fun – Aladdin is a guaranteed hit for young and old alike.
Furnished with flashing wands and whirling sparklers, the audience at the press night of Aladdin were raring to go long before the curtain went up. Yelling in anticipation, they all knew exactly what they were going to get – and exactly who they wanted to see.
Writer, director and dame Brad Fitt has said that every panto is essentially the same story, and it’s that familiarity mixed with a hefty dose of the new and unexpected that makes the Arts Theatre’s offering so enjoyable. The (almost) infallible team of Fitt, Matt Crosby as Wishee Washee and Julie Buckfield (Aladdin) are so well known to the Cambridge audience now that it’s a bit like a pre-Christmas get-together with members of the family that you see but once a year.
And they didn’t let us down. The tried-and-tested formula definitely works, and why fix what ain’t broke? This year’s offering being Aladdin, the slop scene was much anticipated, but long before that we’d been treated to multiple costume changes from Widow Twankee – best of which had to be the Lady GaGa outfit –and plenty of slapstick comedy, corny jokes and ribbing of the audience. Plus, of course, lots of singing, dancing, coloured lights, bangs and stage smoke.
A particularly hunky genie with heaps of street cred in the shape of Jamie-Ray Hartshorne, James Hirst’s sleazy baddie Abenazar and Martyn Ellis as a noodle-selling Emperor added spice to the eastern mix. The Panto Babes were cute as ever, and sure to have made their mums proud.
A bit like a Wallace and Gromit film, it pays to take note of what’s going on in the background and the settings of Old Peking and the interior of the washeteria provided rich pickings for comic punnery (no, I’m not going to tell, you have to go along and see for yourself).
So, that slop scene. Brilliantly inventive and funny, and yes, totally daft – Matt Crosby’s Wishee Washee is so beautifully gormless it works perfectly, and when Widow Twankee ends up in the system… no, I’m not going to tell you any more. Go along and see it for yourself. Round up some children and take them with you if you need an excuse. It’ll be the best laugh you’ve had all year…
Ishtar, the Slave of the Ring
Genie of the Lamp