Roger Hall’s Aladdin: the pantomime

Circa One, Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki St, Waterfront, Wellington

19/11/2011 - 23/12/2011

Production Details

A wonderful night of magic and fun!

A musical, magical, spectacular treat that keeps young and old entertained and laughing, Aladdin is the perfect way to celebrate the festive season. In the best of panto traditions Aladdin has hilarious topical jokes, comic antics, bright lively music, amazing costumes and of course, plenty of opportunities for the audience to get involved and join the fun.

Aladdin opens at CIRCA Theatre on Saturday 19th November at 8pm 

Aladdin has always been an audience favourite – and in this year’s brand new production Gavin Rutherford is relishing the chance to play the greatest of great Dames.

“The big one!” says Gavin. “When it comes to pantomime dames there is no more famous character than Widow Twankey and it is my privilege to be playing her this year. Roger Hall places us firmly in old Arabee (which is closer to Wellington than one might think) and lets us into the weird world of Twankey’s laundry full of the ‘noble’ classes’ dainties and the neighbour’s old grundies.” 

“As anyone who knows me will attest, these are grounds on where I thrive. Having played Mother Hood last year (in Robin Hood) the challenge comes from making Widow Twankey a different person while still retaining the fuller figure elements that made Trelisse Hood so appealing. Widow Twankey is a bit more worldly-wise in her machinations as she struggles to attain the upper middle class status she so richly deserves – and, of course, in her pursuit of a man!

“This year’s panto is packed full of Wellington’s best performers so the energy in the rehearsal room is frantic and hilarious. Audiences will get on a fast-paced carpet ride of song, dance and silliness filled with romance, magic and “blimmen good-night-outness!”.

“The magic and characters are a huge hit with the kids and some of the best experiences we have during a panto are when the children are allowed to come up onstage. The shrieking adult laughter at the usual naughty jokes and subversive satire and the joy of the kids makes our large amount of sweat and energy more than worthwhile.”

Aladdin stars a fabulous cast of – Gavin Rutherford as Widow Twankey, Lyndee-Jane Rutherford, Jessica Robinson, Richard Chapman, Nick Dunbar, Jeff Kingsford-Brown, Louis Solino, with music maestro Michael Nicholas Williams, and costumes and choreography by Paul Jenden. And this year, there is even more magic, thanks to the very special help of Feilding magician, Andrew Wilson. 


Starring the world’s best-known Dame – Widow Twankey, with her son Aladdin, the extraordinary genie, wicked Abanazar, beautiful Jasmine, lovelorn Grand Vizier and those hilarious helpers Hankey and Pankey, in a happy ever-after great night out! 


“Fast paced, packed with songs and topical jokes  … the audience joined in with gusto- a fun night out” – Dominion Post (Aladdin)

“Full of the joys of the festive season … do yourselves and the kids a favour and go!” – Theatreview (Aladdin) 

“A great way to introduce kids to the magic of theatre … easily the ideal Xmas outing for the holidays … a treat”  – Salient (Red Riding Hood)

“You can’t wish for more!” – Capital Times (Aladdin)

Roger Hall’s Aladdin: The Pantomime
CIRCA Theatre, 1 Taranaki Street, Wellington
19th NOVEMBER – 23rd DECEMBER 2011
And 3rd  – 14th JANUARY 2012

Performance times:
19th NOVEMBER – 23rd DECEMBER 2011
Tuesday to Thursday  –  6.30pm
Friday & Saturday   –   8pm
Sunday  –  4pm

3rd  – 14th JANUARY 2012
Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday  –  6.30pm
Sunday  –  4pm

$25 PREVIEW     –    Friday 18th November  –  8pm
$25 SUNDAY  SPECIAL   –   Sunday 20th November – 4pm 

Prices:  $46  Adults;
$38  Students, Senior Citizens and Beneficiaries
$39  Groups (6+);  $25 Under 25s
$15  Children;  $107    Family Ticket – 2 adults plus 2 children

BOOKINGS:  Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki Street, Wellington
Phone 801 7992  

Abanazar / Sultan:  NICK DUNBAR
Hankey / Pankey:  LOUIS SOLINO
Princess Jasmine:  JESSICA ROBINSON
Kebab:  as himself

Costume Design PAUL JENDEN
Lighting Design JENNIFER LAL

Stage Manager:  Eric Gardiner
Technical Operator:  Laurie Dean
Sound:  Oceania Audio
Choreography:  Paul Jenden
Publicity:  Claire Treloar
Graphic Design:  Rose Miller, Kraftwork
Photography:  Stephen A’Court
House Manager:  Suzanne Blackburn
Front of House:  Linda Wilson 

2hrs 30mins, incl. interval

Out of the bottle

Review by Alison Hodge 15th Dec 2011

Roger Hall’s Aladdin has plenty to entertain, including some very funny gags featuring John Key, Winston Peters and the Rugby World Cup. The show is fast paced and broad with a lot of audience participation, which the capacity crowd entered into with great gusto.

The cast clearly had a ball, enjoying the sight gags and topical references as much as they enjoyed delivery of the groan inducing puns. Gavin Rutherford as Widow Twankey was a real delight. His immaculate timing and warm, ‘womanly’ character had the audience won over from the first scene. He also handled over-enthusiastic audience members adeptly and with good humour.

The villainous Abanazar was played with relish by Nick Dunbar and Jeff Kingsford-Brown was very likable as the lovelorn Grand Vizier. Lyndee-Jane Rutherford’s Phyllis Diller-inspired Genie was also a crowd pleaser. Michael Nicholas Williams’ music added bounce and variety to proceedings.

Despite the talent onstage, this production lacked sparkle. The unimaginative set did not create many useful spaces for the actors to inhabit. Too much of the action was spread across the very wide stage, often leaving the actors in a straggling, amateurish line.

As a result, many opportunities for funny business and clever action were missed (such as when each character encountered the Genie for the first time), and more intimate scenes were played in the same wide space. A stronger directorial hand was needed.

Be that as it may Aladdin is still a generous serving of humour with some solid performances. 


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Impressive magic among the gags

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 25th Nov 2011

Not much has changed in Roger Hall’s Aladdin since it first appeared at Circa in 2006, though its geography has got even more confusing than I remember. Widow Twankey is still running her laundry in Cuba Street (“Watch out for the Bucket Fountain!”), everyone ends up in Taihape on a flying carpet, and the Blue Mosque in Istanbul is briefly glimpsed as a desirable palace for Princess Jasmine.

What has changed, of course, are the topical gags. I had expected numerous references to the notorious meeting over a cuppa but there was only one. Widow Twankey does get Aladdin to deliver some Teflon shirts to Mr Key and mention of a disastrous wreck in Tauranga refers to an ageing politician on the comeback trail.

The World Cup turns up – three of them, in fact, in Aladdin’s cave of treasures but they are completely ignored, even though Aladdin has two AB flags on his bike.  However, there is an excellent running gag in which Widow Twankey acts as a referee giving rulings that I suspect most of us wouldn’t have understood if we hadn’t watched so many rugby games recently.

A large group of youngsters on opening night threw themselves enthusiastically into the audience participation sequences, including becoming part of a human chain washing machine. For the adults there are some very sophisticated risqué jokes which will sail right over the heads of young unless some of them have read James Joyce!

The magic sequences (Andrew Wilson), including a horribly realistic guillotine, are impressive as are John Hodgkins’ Moorish setting and Paul Jenden’s colourful, flowing costumes. Michael Nicholas Williams provides the music with his usual enthusiasm.

Gavin Rutherford’s warm-hearted Widow Twankey has a roguish eye for men sitting in the front row, while Louis Solino is a funny Middle Eastern Harpo Marx as the mute twins Hankey and Pankey.  Richard Chapman (Aladdin), Jessica Robinson (Jasmine), Jeff Kingsford-Brown (Grand Vizier), and Lyndee-Jane Rutherford (Genie) all perform with gusto as the panto goodies but I really warmed to the villain – and wanted to cheer and not boo – Nick Dunbar’s evil, overacting Abanazar and his wicked sidekick Kebab. 


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Light-hearted festive fun

Review by John Smythe 20th Nov 2011

Having supplied Circa Theatre with a new pantomime every festive season since 2005, Roger Hall has stayed true to his post-Robin Hood vow, last year, to write no more (pantos, that is). So now Circa will offer revivals, for the new generations coming through; for those who will appreciate different things, being older; for those who like the nostalgia; for those who missed it the first time … Fair enough.

Rather than return to the first panto – Cinderella (2005) – they have opted for the 2006 vintage: Aladdin, perhaps to capitalise on the “no relation to John Key” gag for Widow Twankey (after all, who knows where he will be this time next year).

The revival is littered with such up-to-date topical jokes, including clever connection between oil and Tauranga (and, tangentially, Winston Peters), a pointed Terry Serepisos gag and various references to rugby (remember when that was at the centre of our universe?). Localising old favourites are welcomed back too (laundering jokes; who removed the stains from Kirkcaldie and Stains, etc).

Given the story is very much rooted in the contrast between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’, I’d have though the Occupations of ‘the 99%’ could have got a mention, but the moral fabric of these tales remains rather questionable when it comes to equating happiness with being rich and it would take strong political commitment to fully re-work and exploit their potential in a 21st century context.

John Hodgkins has replaced Paul Jenden’s silken set of colourful hanging fabrics with a more solid evocation of ‘Old Araby’, providing a more neutral background for Jenden’s splendidly colourful costume designs. On that score I still have a gripe with the “poor widow woman” (oohhh…) looking anything but poor, thus robbing her of the chance to don something opulent when they at last become rich.

Likewise I cannot understand why the all-important lamp – which the dastardly Abanazer tracks down by using Aladdin – is shiny and silver when the story demands something old and tarnished (isn’t that why Aladdin rubs it in the first place?). It makes a nonsense of his “New lamps for old!” ruse to tick Widow Twankey into giving it to him.

While I am reciting my gripes, I remain bemused at the lack of actual dramatic tension amid all the theatricality.  We know that Susan Wilson, as a director, can regenerate powerful drama (cf. August: Osage County and When The Rain Stops Falling, earlier this year).  Hall’s script does too often resort to reportage when interactive action would be more dramatic. Even so, there are times when the given circumstances of the story are not exploited as well as they might be. (Just to mention one example: when Widow Twankey sees the Genie for the first time, she expresses no fear, surprise or any other emotion; she just cracks a wry gag.)

Nevertheless Gavin Rutherford relishes his dame role enormously and the audience loves him/her. Likewise the evil Abanazer is played with all due malevolence by Nick Dunbar, who doubles well as the Sultan, born to be a mindless dictator. Abanazer’s puppet sidekick Kebab delightfully animated, in and off his master’s arm.

The star-crossed lovers – Twankey’s son Aladdin and the Sultan’s daughter Princess Jasmine – are sincerely, if lightly, played by Richard Chapman and Jessica Robinson. Jeff Kingsford-Brown plays other lovelorn character, the Grand Vizier (which he also played in ’06), to entertaining effect, drawing us into his woes and wants.

The only other actor to reprise an original role is Lyndee-Jane Rutherford as the Genie (with the bright orange hair). Once again she exercises our historical /political /religious sensibilities by playing her – very broadly, as is her wont – as a Jewish Mother, from the Bronx. Is it significant (e.g. as I suggest 5 years ago, to redress the balance of offence taken a couple of centuries ago, when the original full text included a very anti-Semitic episode in which the naïve Aladdin is cheated and exploited by a treacherous Jewish merchant, and is saved by the Jew’s honest and upright Muslim competitor)? Or has no thought at all been given to the implications?   

As Twankey’s monkey/slaves Hankey (happy) and Panky (cranky) – played memorably 5 years ago by Paul Jenden – Louis Solino has yet to engage us in the fun of this concept.

Jenden’s witty lyrics and musical director Michael Nicholas Williams’ lively tunes – he’s also the tireless solo musician – keep the show bouncing along. Be they solo or together, the singing is uniformly strong.  The ‘The Pantomime Whirl’ has become a favourite highlight and Jenden’s choreography of this, especially, is dynamically rendered by the cast. 

A major plus in this year’s Aladdin is the magic, credited to magic consultant Andrew Wilson. It is masterfully executed by the cast and adds pizzazz to the show overall. The sudden arrival in the cave of treasures also provoked spontaneous applause on opening night. And the audience involvement is well handled – indeed the enthusiastic responses of vocal young fans proves the production is well pitched ‘for all the family’.

Over all it’s light-hearted fun that does its bit for the impending festive season. 


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