Roger Hall’s Aladdin : the pantomime

Fortune Theatre, Dunedin

02/11/2007 - 08/12/2007

Production Details

Script by Roger Hall
Directed by Douglas Kamo
Music by Michael Nicholas Williams
Lyrics by Paul Jenden

Musical Director: Stuart Walker

The script is from New Zealand’s favourite playwright Roger Hall, under the direction of Douglas Kamo (Encore, Cabaret, 42nd Street, I Love You You’re Perfect Now Change & The Rat Pack Returns Live) get ready to be razzle dazzled! Music by Michael Nicholas Williams and lyrics by Paul Jenden (Cinderella, Jack & the Beanstalk) and musical direction from Stuart Walker.

Widow Twankey is played by Grant Bridger. His musical theatre experience includes The Phantom of the Opera in Japan, a national tour of Chicago and his one man show Some Enchanted Evening. Film credits include New Zealand movie gems, Channeling Baby and Jubilee where his character acting was showcased. His voice is top shelf and used to great applause by the Auckland Philharmonia and Christchurch Symphony Orchestra and in front of millions in Schweppes Showtime in the Auckland Domain. He may be remembered by Dunedin audiences for his work in Side by Side by Sondheim and Jesus Christ, Superstar. His various television credits include: Play School, Hercules, Xena and Shortland Street. He’s even worked with David Bowie in Mr Lawrence and will make a damn fine Widow Twankey here at the Fortune!

Marisiale Tunoka plays the Grand Vizier. Siale is well known to Dunedin audiences as he is the only resident Fijian actor. Siale last appeared on the Fortune stage as the deliciously black chocolate wedding planner Flip in The Paradise Package and as the foul mouthed Phillip in The Shape of Things. Recently he has been performing an educational theatre show called The Best Thing for the THeTA Trust and the narrator in the popular children’s and family production of The Twits. Siale is thrilled to be playing the ‘love interest’ of the fabulous Widow Twankey!

Melanie Inglis is returning from Australia to lend her astonishing beauty to the role of the Princess Jasmine. Fortune audiences saw her in The Jungle Book but her extensive music theatre experience include productions of Evita, West Side Story, Bugsy Malone, Jesus Christ, Superstar, Les Miserables and 42nd StreetAnnie, The King and I and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. At the Court Theatre, Christchurch, she has worked in Beauty and the Beast and Kiss Me Kate. She is a delicious match to our Aladdin.

In the title role of Aladdin is innocent faced tenor James Murray who hails from the U.K. where he sang in a jazz band on the Liverpool music scene for many years covering all kinds of big band sounds and all that jazz and since in New Zealand has appeared on stage in Beyond Moulin Rouge, The Rat Pack Returns, Lord of the Flies and Beauty and the Beast.

Local actor Danny Still is cast as the troublesome twins Hankey and Pankey. He returns to the Fortune for his second role in a David Wood Roald Dahl adaptation, having been seen last year in The Witches, and this year in the hugely successful the The Twits. Other Fortune appearances include The Beauty Queen of Lenane and his 1995 Fortune debut in Falling from Grace.

Amy Tarleton will play the wondrous Genie and made her Fortune debut in the recent production of King Lear. Her appearances in Wellington include: The Sniper, Albert Speer and The Brilliant Fassah and she has been seen in the short films, Fish and Chip Shop Song and Spring Flames. Her comic timing is exceptional and she has the rare ability of conveying vibrant emotions.

Aidan Bell has been cast as the Sultan. He is an experienced English performer who was seen recently in the hit shows Troy the Musical and  Monarchy the Musical, at Wellington’s Circa Theatre. 

The Widow Twankey Grant Bridger
Aladdin James Murray
Jasmine Melanie Inglis
Abanazar/Sultan Aidan Bell
Genie Amy Tarleton
Grand Vizier Siale Tunoka
Hankey and Pankey Danny Still
Twankey's Cat Zipper

Set Design Peter King & Paul Jenden
Costume Design Paul Jenden
Lighting Design Alan Surgener

Performance Pianist Stuart Walker
Dance Captain Melanie Inglis
Stage Manager (Reh) Alan Surgener
Stage Manager (Perf) Brendan van den Berg
Assistant Stage Manager David Good
Set Construction Peter King
Costumes & Wardrobe Maryanne Wright Smyth
Sound Operator Alan Surgener
Lighting Operator David Phillips
Props Brendan van den Berg
Props Assistants Maira Müller & Louise Moulin

Theatre , Music , Pantomime , Children’s , Family ,

2hrs 30mins, incl. interval

Deserves to pull in the crowds

Review by Terry MacTavish 12th Nov 2007

Is it really a year since I reviewed Cinderella: The Pantomime? I feel like the gloomy dance critic overheard exiting a London theatre at Christmas muttering, "Oh God, one Nutcracker nearer the grave!" 

The problem may lie in the timing: this latest effort to tempt the tots comes just too soon after the Fortune’s last production, Roald Dahl’s delightful Twits. Or maybe an overdose of Roger Hall: Cinderella and Who Needs Sleep Anyway? and now Aladdin, ()then, first up for next year,  Who Wants to be 100?) taken in such quick succession can give indigestion to the most dedicated fan.

But the Box Office adores Hall, and that sentiment will probably be shared by the children, more than half in their second childhood actually, succumbing to the charms of old-fashioned pantomime. The ingredients are all here and it’s the mixture as before: beautiful heroine and hero, cross-dressed dame, villain, and comic sidekicks, including a glove-puppet and more surprisingly, a real dog, Zipper.

Director Douglas Kamo and unflappable onstage pianist Stuart Walker keep the action bubbling along, with lively song and dance numbers, although the story really is too thin for two and a half hours. The set, a romantic casbah, is pleasing apart from a disappointing treasure cave, and the costumes are both exotic and humorous: Paul Jenden’s designs brought to life by Peter King and Maryanne Wright Smyth.

Leading the cast is Grant Bridger as Aladdin’s mum, non-Arabian Widow Twankey, in purple wig and travesty of an eighteenth-century gown, quickly establishing a lively rapport with the audience. Operating a laundry gives Twankey the opportunity for plenty of terrible puns and dubious jokes – "It’s a dirty world out there" she warns – and she tosses them off with gusto, bantering even with the lighting operator. 

Although Bridger is fun, the production benefits even more through the casting of Aidan Bell as the evil Abanazar. The play would be in danger of blanding out with no real sense of danger to the goodies, were it not for his sinister presence, characterised by skull-like head and extraordinarily expressive hands. Bell’s credits include The Rocky Horror Show, and his menacing caperings certainly bring that to mind.

Abanazar’s plan is to use Twankey’s son Aladdin to procure the magic lamp that contains the genie. Amy Tarleton, as the genie who has been played as a Jewish mom in other productions, sounds like a cheerful Lynn of Tawa and farts to work her magic, but looks suitably Persian with a dashing costume that reveals her navel, more than was permitted in the old I Dream of Jeannie TV show.

Aladdin, played engagingly by James Murray, needs the genie’s powers himself, to help him win the hand of the lovely Princess Jasmine. Melanie Inglis sparkles as the charming and spirited Arab princess, first seen desperately trying to sip her drink through a burkha, but eager to join the real world and seek her true love, even if it does mean disguising herself as a Kavanagh College schoolboy on work experience.

As the Grand Vizier, who confesses to a somewhat implausible crush on Widow Twankey, Siale Tunoka looks in his red gown like a giant jaffa, and comes across as just as sweet. Danny Still is utterly tireless, handling the double role of good and bad identical twins Hankey and Pankey with aplomb, and giving the best ever interpretation of a frantic flying carpet.

My favourite scene: the wonderfully energetic routine in which the cast transforms into the laundry, washing, spinning and ironing in a neat example of physical theatre.  

Providing uncompromisingly good theatre for the young is vital and Aladdin deserves to pull in the crowds. Hopefully however, the Fortune will notice that Christmas pantos are also performed at the Playhouse, the Regent, the Mayfair and even the Town Hall, and though of course they are fun, perhaps our one fully professional theatre should provide something of more substance to see us through the silly season. Meantime I guess I can join in singing The Pantomime Whirl one more time…


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If it doesn’t quite scintillate, it sparkles

Review by Barbara Frame 12th Nov 2007

Saturday night’s Fortune audience was demographically surprising, the median age being much closer to 39 than 9. But hey, you don’t have to be a kid to enjoy a pantomime, and Roger Hall’s Aladdin, directed by Douglas Kamo, combines material aimed squarely at the littlies with jokes designed to sail right over children’s heads and keep the adults entertained.

Politically incorrect and shamelessly orientalist, Aladdin, like any self-respecting panto, has good tunes (music by Michael Nicholas Williams, lyrics by Paul Jenden, musical direction and performance piano by Stuart Walker), audience participation, and plenty of fun for just about everyone. So everyone had a good time.

At over 2 ½ hours, including the interval, the production is perhaps too long for a family show, mystifyingly so when there are several sequences that could beneficially have been speeded up or trimmed.

But, even if it doesn’t quite scintillate, it sparkles. The set, designed by Peter King and Paul Jenden, features lots of silky fabrics in bright colours, and is complemented by Maryanne Wright Smyth’s extravagantly gorgeous costumes [designed by Jenden -ed].

The actors are splendid. Grant Bridger is right over the top – the only place for a pantomime dame to be – as the Widow Twankey, Aladdin’s laundress Mum. James Murray as Aladdin and Melanie Inglis as his beloved Jasmine steal everyone’s hearts. Adam Bell’s Abenazar, the evil magician, is as wicked as they get. Amy Tarleton as the dim, new-age genie, Siale Tunoka as the lovably confused Grand Vizier, Danny Still, wordlessly and wonderfully expressive as Hankey and Pankey, and Zipper, as Twankey’s strangely canine cat, round out the cast.


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