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Reviews / Genie-us jokes amid Aladdin fun as pantomime kicks off

Aladdin (Hilary Smith), Wishy Washy (Lynsey Rendall) and Widow Twankey (Bob Lowes) share some laughs - Photo: Millgaet Media.

Any curious dog walkers strolling past the Garrison Theatre in Lerwick on Wednesday night may have been forgiven for thinking a No.1 boyband was playing the venue – such was the head-spinning decibel level of high-pitched screams inside.

Dip your head through the doors, however, and you’d have been greeted with youthful choruses of ‘He’s behind you!’ and a cacophony of venomous boos – the sure-fire sign of the start of the panto season.

This year’s offering from the Open Door Drama group is Aladdin, with Izzy Swanson directing and writing the comedic two-act production.

Being of an age where I can remember when a packet of crisps only cost a mere 25p, it was somewhat peculiar at times to be marooned amongst a herd of rabid children eager for some midweek jollies – but, once you got accustomed to the age-gap, it was a pretty compelling and charming affair.

The sizeable audience followed the jelly-limbed Hilary Smith as she took on the role of Aladdin with gusto, navigating through the trials and tribulations of the classic tale.

There’s the highly desirable magic lamp, the genie and of course the black-clad villain (Alan Murdoch), who now threatens to be booed, hissed and have sweets thrown at him should he ever be seen in public by the isles’ school kids.

The cast is notable, with Bob Lowes dame’ing it up with theatric zest and throwing his voice to the back of the Garrison and out onto the Town Hall, whilst jazz dynamo Norman Willmore drove the musical direction on keyboard. The younger members of the crew, meanwhile, belied their age with astute and confident cameos.

The props and costumes are about as important as the protagonists, and the Egyptian mummy set-up, for example, was impressive for a local production. For those with a nervous disposition or a dodgy ticker meanwhile, be prepared for some alarming bangs that resonate throughout the room like shotgun blasts.

Look beyond the call-and-response lines, the sing-songs and the overplayed acting, however, and the true sharpness of this Aladdin panto shows through. Gags about Mareel and Tesco, married with dashes of subtle innuendo, raised smirks from the adults whilst repeated pop culture quips about the likes of Simon Cowell and Justin Bieber kept the teens in check. Some of the one-liners, meanwhile, were – dare I say – genie-us.

But it’s for the kids, and the assembled mass of bubbling children lapped it up, standing out of their seats to implore the goodies to look behind themselves before grabbing flying sweets in their outstretched mucky mitts. Some imaginative types even believed that by touching their nose once, wiggling their toes twice and wagging their ears three times, they managed to free the actors and actresses on stage from an immobility spell. ‘We did it!’, one shouted in shock, even as the next scene progressed.

Spare a thought too for the parents who drove home the audience come the end of the night. The substantial cast concluded with a traditional rendition of We Wish You a Merry Christmas – a ditty sure to excite the already worked-up children into combustible delirium only a couple of weeks before the big day. The main character on the 25th is ol’ Santa himself, but, judging by this showing, the kids will probably have just as much fun at this pantomime as they will do when shredding open presents from the jolly fellow on Christmas Day.

Aladdin will run at the Garrison Theatre in Lerwick until 21 December. Tickets are available from Shetland Box Office.

Chris Cope

Scottish Parliament election, 6 May 2021