The first major London pantomime to make it to press night since 2019 doesn’t pussyfoot around. Written by comic Vikki Stone – who has previously spent several years on stage, in the show’s villain role – the Lyric Hammersmith’s 2021 ‘Aladdin’ kicks off with a sublime showstopper set-piece reworking of Blur’s ‘Parklife’ (they shout ‘panto!’ instead), in which Qasim Mahmood’s layabout hero wanders a chaotic Hammersmith peopled by a never-ending stream of panto cliches - particular shout out to the traditional two-person pantomime cow that runs across the stage for five seconds and is then never seen again.
It’s a truly giddy bit of fun, and if it’s the high point of the entire show, then Abigail Graham’s production remains a treat throughout.
Intro aside, the most notable thing about Stone’s writing debut is that she’s not afraid to go in with studs re: the current state of British politics. Kate Donnachie’s Emperor of Hammersmith isn’t officially named Boris, but as he’s a poshly bumbling leader with a mop of blonde hair and clown shoes… it’s pretty obvious what the show is driving at. That’s even before we’re hit with gags about Peppa Pig World, ‘forgive me, forgive me’, idiotic posturing with flags, and money spunked away on an underused media briefing room.
The Lyric panto has traditionally been a bit more cerebral and cynical than its peers, and while there’s plenty for kids to enjoy, it’s fair to say Stone carries on this tradition with her debut as writer. Mahmood’s Aladdin is a self-absorbed wideboy – in stark contrast to his go-getting sister Wishy (Gracie McGonigal) – whose attempts to impress the Emperor’s daughter Jasmine (Ellena Vincent) via some ill-advised skateboarding triggers a series of events that leads to our hero coming into possession of a magic lamp and its attendant beatboxing Genie (Donnnachie again). As it turns out, she’s able to grant infinite wishes – not just the traditional three – which leads to Aladdin magicking up an endless stream of gaudy tat that he hopes to impress Jasmine with.
Fortunately, Irvine Iqbal’s thunderously plummy Abanazer is after the lamp too, and his convoluted schemes eventually lead to our hero learning that there’s more to life than 24-hour bling on tap. Along the way there are some marvellously weird bits, including some Angry Birds, an evil chicken and a sea shanty quartet, plus a lovely piece of stage trickery in the very sweet magic carpet sequence. Plus it’s worth saying that none of the repellant orientalism that still plagues some productions of ‘Aladdin’ is present: it is very much a story set in Hammersmith.
And if it takes a slightly more sardonic view of its characters than some shows, everything comes good in the end. Ultimately even ‘Boris’ redeems himself – a Christmas miracle indeed!