This production of Aladdin was a 20th year celebration of pantomime at the Hackney Empire. Panto tends to deviate from set plot lines, but this performance uses Aladdin as a vague guideline rather than a script. There are several layers of narration, starting with an impressive 10ft trapped puppet Goddess Gaia taking over the stage. The rest of the show is just as flamboyantly ridiculous. Even the location and characters were given an East London twist, set in the far off land of Ha-ka-ney a town that has just exited the Eastern Union. Aladdin is determined to win the heart of princess Jasmine, who he is not legally allowed to set eyes on. Once they fall in love and decide to marry, he is given the challenge of building a palace in one day to prove his worth to the dictatorial Empress. This is much to the distress of his brother Dishi, forever in the shadow of Aladdin going through the motions of supporting him through his wacky adventures. To greet him, we shout “What a fittie!”.
There are also plenty of opportunities to boo and shout “he’s behind you!”. Abanazar is a villain so treacherous he also carries the title Jacob Peas Bogg. In pursuit of the lamp, he must find someone pure of heart to retrieve it, so he poses as Aladdin’s uncle to convince him to recover it. The high-jinks and dance numbers that ensue are wonderfully outrageous with catchy songs. Rather than the genie, it is Aladdin’s mother, widower Madam Twankey, played by Clive Rowe (Duke from Tracy Beaker!) who is the real star of the show. She runs a laundrette in between her outrageous dance routines.
This is a show catering to all the family, where everyone watching is encouraged to participate. There is a sign-language dance routine led by a panda for toddlers to potter along to, and some less wholesome one-liners to keep the parents cackling. Somehow every character finds their way to a happy ending. The goddess and genie is freed, Aladdin and Jasmine live happily ever after, the empress elopes with her guard Dumpling. Even Abanazer finds love and renounces his evil past for a future with Madam Twankey. Bizarre, but wonderful.