The Lyric panto is a super-fun, subtly highbrow success
‘A whole new world’, goes the Disney movie song that definitely isn’t in the Lyric Hammersmith’s annual panto, ‘a new fantastic point of view’. It’s a helpful description of panto season, when the Lyric shrugs off its attempts to keep the swearier side of avant-garde theatre alive in favour of glittery backdrops and heaps of sweaty sentiment.
But this year’s ‘Aladdin’ is hanging firmly on to its legit theatre credentials. Its author Joel Horwood is an up-and-coming young playwright, who has the rare pleasure of having written two London Christmas shows at once (he’s also teaming up with Emma Rice for the Globe’s ‘Little Matchgirl’). His script here is a rather highbrow affair: the villain’s full name is ‘Nigel Donald Theresa David Abanazer’ and the fourth wall isn’t just broken but ritually steamrollered with a host of luvvie-baiting Brecht jokes.
The gentle rich-vs-poor message of ‘Aladdin’ is amped up by turning the sultan into ‘Emperor One-Percent’. He lives in Peckenham Palace, which set designer Oliver Townsend turns into a not-so-subtle version of south London’s new gated communities, where signs read ‘No Poors Allowed’. Still, although these references might soar over kiddies’ heads like the proverbial flying carpet, the rest of director Ellen McDougall’s joyfully anarchic production won’t. Aladdin and Jasmine’s romance is gorgeously sappy, Corin Buckeridge’s score is laced with pop songs played by a live rock band, and the cave that hides the magic lamp is turned into a ‘Super Mario’-style computer game full of golden coins and blow-up palm trees.
This is a rather more lo-fi affair than most pantos, with a small cast, and effects that occasionally tip into the downright ramshackle – particularly a rather sloppy slop scene set in Widow Twankey’s laundry, although a hitherto silent three-year-old next to me was in hysterics. But some brilliant performances carry us through, particularly Malinda Parris’s fine-voiced Genie and Vikki Stone’s scene-stealingly hilarious villain Abanazer, played as a stroppy manchild in a pleather romper. And if the magic carpet takes flight to a generic-sounding rock ballad instead of the Disney favourite, well, it’s still most definitely soaring.