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Last Updated: Monday, 20 December, 2004, 10:48 GMT
Review: Aladdin at the Old Vic
By Ben Sutherland
BBC News

Sir Ian Mckellen as Widow Twankey
Sir Ian McKellen as Widow Twankey is pulling in the public

Kevin Spacey's tenure as artistic director of London's Old Vic theatre got off to a sticky start with the poorly received Cloaca - but he is guaranteed a recovery with his version of Aladdin, starring Sir Ian McKellen as Widow Twankey.

In the season of joy, this version of the famous fairytale is a celebration of pantomime itself, with Sir Ian's pantomime dame taking centre stage.

An absolute minimum of plot is used as the base on which to hang a feast of musical numbers, slapstick, audience participation, innuendo, and outrageous costumes, often all at the same time.

The story, such as it is, is the usual - bad guy Abbanazar is after a magic lamp that grants three wishes, and needs Aladdin to get it.

Kevin Spacey
Spacey became artistic director of the Old Vic in February 2003

Aladdin, however, wants to use the power of the lamp to woo his true love, the Princess of China.

But the lamp and genie stuff is generally sacrificed for as much booing, sing-a-long, smut and "it's behind you'" as possible, together with some brilliant topical jokes, camp villainy, and Sir Ian in a dress. Several dresses, in fact.

So much has been thrown into the mix that it is surprising not to see the kitchen sink in a supporting role.

But it's Sir Ian's Widow Twankey who steals the show.

Musical numbers

Striding on stage in a coat of colours, Sir Ian launches into what is virtually a stand-up routine.

"You know who I am," he declares triumphantly, before embarking on a hugely funny monologue.

Sir Ian is best known for Lord of the Rings and Shakespeare

He throws in memories of his home town of Wigan, some sly digs at other theatre directors, and masses of innuendo based on his character's name.

Sir Ian - the man best-known for playing Shakespearean roles and Gandalf in Lord of the Rings - will undoubtedly bring in the punters, and to hear him bellow "one ring to rule them all" in the flesh, is in itself well worth the price of the ticket.

But, in places, he is almost upstaged by Roger Allam, who exudes comic menace with every word he sarcastically spits at the audience.

Much of his dialogue is, of course, often drowned out by booing, but Allam does not need words - his malevolence is clear in every roll of the eyeballs.

Meanwhile, Joe McFadden is very good as cheery Aladdin, the role basically designed to keep the kids onside while the adults laugh at songs about the wonder of "happiness" (say it with a French accent), or some biting satire. Slapstick lovers will be more than happy too.

There are a few songs, including one specially-written but dismal ballad by Sir Elton John. But these tend to slow the action and get in the way of the laughs.

The songs do improve in the second half, in particular a joyous number celebrating pantomime. And that is really what staging a panto at the Old Vic is all about.

Any show that features set design by a 12-year-old (the talented Flo Perry, daughter of Turner Prize-winning potter Grayson), a magic carpet that really flies and Sir Ian as a scantily-clad Lady Britannia is only ever going to be about the fun side of theatre.

Aladdin is showing at the Old Vic until 23 January.

Actor Sir Ian becomes panto Dame
19 Nov 04 |  Entertainment
McKellen makes panto dame debut
18 Dec 04 |  Entertainment
Theatre hails Spacey appointment
06 Feb 03 |  Entertainment

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