Roger Hall's Aladdin - the pantomime

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

18/11/2006 - 23/12/2006

Production Details

By Roger Hall
Directed by Susan Wilson
Songs by Paul Jenden and Michael Nicholas Williams

The festive season is here again, and this year Circa brings you all the rich colours and vibrancy of the Arabian Bazaar with Roger Hall’s fabulous new pantomime, Aladdin, which opens in Circa One on Saturday 18th November at 8pm.

Aladdin, which stars the world’s best-known Pantomime Dame, tells the story of Widow Twankey who, with her son Aladdin, runs a laundry in a country ruled by the Sultan and his beautiful daughter, Jasmin.

With its evil villain, the wicked Abanazar (Hiss! Boo!), amazing Genie of the lamp, a cave filled with gold and jewels, hilarious laundry assistants, Hankey and Pankey, lovelorn Grand Vizier and rags-to-riches happy-ever-after ending, Aladdin is set to be a musical, magical and spectacular evening that will have all generations entertained and laughing.

Once more the team that brought you Cinderella conjures up a wonderful mix of the traditional and topical, spiced with loads of magic, local references, Roger Hall’s legendary wit, Michael Williams’ original score of great toe-tapping music and Paul Jenden’s amazingly creative and opulent costumes – great fun for everyone!
Starring a stunning line-up of hugely talented, highly energetic and very funny Wellington actors.

Tues, Wed and Thurs- 6.30pm;     Fri and Sat – 8pm;    Sun – 4pm.


Set & Costume Design PAUL JENDEN

Lighting Design JENNIFER LAL



Widow Twankey                                                                JULIAN WILSON

Aladdin (her son)                                                                 AARON WARD

Hankey and his twin Pankey (her servants)                     PAUL JENDEN

Abanazar                                                                              TIMOTHY BARTLETT

Grand Vizier                                                                       JEFF KINGSFORD-BROWN

The Sultan                                                                           TIMOTHY BARTLETT

Princess Jasmine (his daughter)                                      HOLLY SHANAHAN           

Padme (her friend)                                                              LYNDEE-JANE RUTHERFORD

Genie                                                                                     LYNDEE-JANE RUTHERFORD

with Kebab as himself



Stage Manager                       Eric Gardiner

Technical Operator                Amy Delahunty

Musician                                 Michael Nicholas Williams or

                                                Adrianne MacDowell

Sound Consultant                  Ian Hull Brown, Golden Horn

Choreography                        Paul Jenden

Sound                                      Morgan Samuel, Susan Wilson

Set Construction                     John Hodgkins

Costume Construction           Paul Jenden

Publicity                                  Claire Treloar

Graphic Design                       Rose Miller, Parlour

Photography                           Stephen A'Court

House Manager                      Suzanne Blackburn

Front of House                        Linda Wilson

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

2 hrs 10 min, incl. interval

It's all about the experience

Review by Lynn Freeman 23rd Nov 2006

Roger Hall loves pantos and his passion is catching on.

His panto Cinderella was a hit last year and this year’s Christmas treat, Aladdin, is packing out. It’s light and frothy, with a few jabs at politicians – the one directed at Don Brash going a tad too far perhaps but otherwise all very good natured.

There’s a Dame, lots of chances to hiss at the baddy and to warn the goodies to look out behind them (although a young lass near me took the opposite tack), a moment for the littlies to enjoy a few minutes of fame on stage and, of course, big song and dance numbers.

There can’t be a sequin or sparkly piece of fabric or fairy light left in Wellington after Paul Jenden’s furnishing of his almost blindingly colourful set. He’s also worked on the songs with Michael Nicholas Williams and they’re filled with foot-tapping melodies and deliberately cringe-making rhymes. Some of the notes are beyond some of the cast but that’s all part of the experience. Susan Wilson keeps the action in top gear, where it needs to be – you really don’t want to think too much about the plot, it’s all about the experience.

Julian Wilson is simply one of the most deliciously comic actors around and his Widow Twankey is such a sweetheart you want to take her home with you. Timothy Bartlett revels in the role of the evil Abanazar (having been an equally hissable bad stepsister to Cinders last year) and Jeff Kingsford-Brown is a lovable Grand Vizier, despite looking rather alarmingly like Mrs Bucket (Bouquet) from the telly in his makeup.

As the young lovers Princess Jasmine and Aladdin (Holly Shanahan and Aaron Ward) are well matched while Lyndee-Jane Rutherford has an absolute ball as the (Jewish Mother) Genie. Paul Jenden’s non-speaking roles as Hankey and Pankey are a comic delight.


John Smythe November 24th, 2006

"It shall to the barber's with your beard!" as Hamlet said, adding (to the Player), "He's for a tale of bawdry or he sleeps." You surely meant "This is too long" about my review and not Lynn's which is - as always - succinct. Because I am not constrained by space I do claim the right to extend the discussion into such things as "history of the genre" where it seems releveant - and you, of course, are very welcome to skim it ... While I'm happy to include what I think of a show, I'm more concerned to represent it in a way that could gives you some idea of what you might think, should you risk your time and money on it. 'Consumer report' reviewing is the rightful task of daily papers and ephemeral radio reviews. Theatreview likes to go a bit wider and deeper on occasion - even with panto: a classical genre that deserves proper attention!

Grubby November 24th, 2006

This review is too long. After all, it is only a pantomime, and doesn't require a history of the genre. Your reviews tend to be overwritten and as a result one wants to skim read and say , yeah, but what did you think of the show?

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Capital twist on ancient tale

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 21st Nov 2006

Roger Hall’s take on the ancient tale of Aladdin is set in old Araby which appears to be at the top of Cuba Street because young Aladdin is described as the boy from Cuba Mall and he is constantly warned by his mother Widow Twankey to look out for the Bucket Fountain.

The panto, however, is a bit more colourful than Cuba Street and is fast paced, packed with brief songs, corny puns, topical jokes, and one or two off-colour ones for the older members of the audience. It must surely be the first panto that contains a joke that refers to James Joyce’s Ulysses.

There are, of course, comic routines, one based on a popular TV dance competition and another using a well-known brand of washing machines, as well as a trip on a flying carpet to Taihape. There are up to date plot devices too, such as an on-line auction for the hand in marriage of Princess Jasmine (Holly Shanahan) and an SOS cell phone call from Aladdin (Aaron Ward) when he’s trapped by the evil Abanazar in the cave full of treasure.

There are frequent calls for audience participation: everything from booing, sighing, cheering, hissing and administering The Terrible Punishment (cue for some ominous music by musical director and composer Michael Nicholas Williams) that Grand Vizier (Jeff Kingsford-Brown) keeps threatening anyone who looks at Princess Jasmine. The traditional panto singalong has been given a welcome miss.

The opening night audience with a goodly sprinkling of youngsters joined in with gusto, particularly when the evil Abanazar (Tim Bartlett) and his left-hand mate, Kebab, appear up to no good as they attempt to acquire the lamp which contains the Genie (Lyndee-Jane Rutherford), who, when she does eventually appear through clouds of smoke, looks and sounds like a rich American widow with Dame Edna specs.

Julian Wilson’s Widow Twankey is less butch than the usual panto dame in his outrageous Jenden creations but he quickly establishes a good rapport with the audience, as does Paul Jenden, who turns in a wickedly funny Jekyll and Hyde act as the smiling, obliging Hankey and his identical twin the snarling, bad-tempered Pankey. The multi-talented Jenden also wrote the lyrics to the songs as well as designing the set and all the numerous costumes.

It’s a fun night out.


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Feelgood festive fare

Review by John Smythe 20th Nov 2006

With their second Roger Hall panto in as many years – with songs by lyricist Paul Jenden (also set and costume designer, and choreographer), and composer Michael Nicholas Williams (also musical director and on stage musician), directed by Susan Wilson – Circa is establishing a welcome end-of-year tradition.

This year it’s a new version of Aladdin, a fun family romp delivered with committed verve by a cast of seven, plus a puppet and one musician (last year it was Cinderella, which is now playing at the Fortune in Dunedin). It promises to pack ’em out and nothing I say should dissuade seekers of feel-good festive fun from going.

As highly theatrical dramatisations of popular folk fables, pantomimes have long been the younger English cousin of Italy’s venerable commedia dell’arte. All three traditions take us to the heart of human experience via fantastic adventures, often through extreme danger, in pursuit of some heart’s desire. They embody moral principles that see good overcome evil, the misguided become wiser, and the hero and heroine find true love. And usually, in the panto versions, as many people as possible get to pair up in the end …

It is inevitable that the feel-good factor during the closing chorus is directly proportional to the jeopardy faced by the protagonists during the show. Jeopardy is also a powerful generator of comedy. And over the centuries these comedic traditions have played an essential role in helping societies confront the harsh realities of life. As Friedrich Hollander wrote so succinctly (in his “liar, liar” song about Baron Munchhausen), “Truth is hard and tough as nails/ That’s why we need fairy tales.”

Of course life’s not so hard these days and it seems to have become the norm that anything’s possible; anyone can do anything if they really really want to. Maybe that’s why the Hall/Circa shows, last year and this year, seem to be more about playing at the idea of panto than using the conventions of pantomime as a means of confronting our fears and exploring our fantasies in a truly exciting world of make believe. Rather than draw us into a magical world of thrilling adventure, they display a world of lush theatrical style that, while fabulous in many respects, is determinedly coy and unthreatening. (What, are they scared they’ll be sued if a child has bad dreams after seeing it?)

Thus, Abanazar – who was a truly evil sorcerer in the original Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp (one of the tales told by Scheherazade in The Book of One Thousand and One Nights, aka The Arabian Nights) – is now played with gentle flair by Timothy Bartlett as a bit of a misfit meanie.  Although he gets us to play along by hissing and booing him, he could never be the stuff of nightmares. Likewise his Sultan exhibits no despotic nature and the much vaunted “terrible punishment” awaiting those who look upon the face of the Princess Jasmine turns out to be … a fun opportunity for some harmless audience participation.

Geoff Kingsford Brown’s fusty enforcer of palace protocol, the Grand Vizier, is also a buffoon, likewise nicely done, and with a rich singing voice. But I can’t help thinking that if he reminded us – the children especially – of the disciplinarian authority figures or some such, his vulnerability at harbouring a secret love for Widow Twankey, would be more surprising, interesting and poignant.

The entertainment factor is severely reduced when the three characters designed to put downward pressure on the hero and heroine are about as menacing as a trio of cabbage patch dolls. They are ‘comfort food’, replacing what used to be hot, spicy and deliciously scary.

Aaron Ward’s lively and long-locks-tossing Aladdin is also a softie from the start. He seems more desperate to be liked by his young audience than to be free of his humdrum laundry boy life and off on a life of adventure. Not only would an aspiring free independent quester be more attractive, it’s also a better set-up for his being smitten by love and for that becoming the reason he gets to have his obstacle-confronting adventures.

Where Hall’s script does score well is in the characterisation of Princess Jasmine, whose idea of adventure is to slum it in ‘the real world’. Holly Shanahan makes the most of every opportunity to mine her contrasts and contradictions, extracting lots of humour on the way.

Here’s where I need to say (as I did of Cinderella) that while Paul Jenden’s characteristic fabric-hanging set and ingeniously created costumes make for a rich and colourful spectacle, they do little to dramatise the difference between the opulence of the palace and the near poverty of the laundry – set here at the poor end of Cuba Street (“Watch out for the bucket fountain!”). The whole rags to riches idea – in this case too easily won, by way of taking us to a greater understanding of what has real value – is a key part of these stories and should be honoured.

The big plus of this show is that Julian Wilson’s Widow Twankey is the best I’ve seen since David Tinkham in the legendary Wellington Repertory pantomimes around half a century ago. Rather than comment wryly on the idea of a pantomime dame, he just gets on and does it – is her – quickly establishing a strong rapport with the audience and committing fully to all her emotional states and wily stratagems: i.e. classic commedia. By way of example, her attempt to take the first step in a waltz, and her triumph in overcoming her trepidations, is arguably the most dramatic highlight of the whole show! (This completes an extraordinary year for Julian Wilson. In a huge range of work he has come up trumps every time – just go to the home page and enter his name in the Search field to get some sense of it all.)

Likewise Lyndee Jane Rutherford caps a busy and varied year with the Genie, extraordinarily characterised as a Jewish momma, to great comic effect. But I have to add that – given that Hall quite rightly peppers the script with obligatory topical jokes, mostly aimed at politicians, and hard-hitting satire can be a legitimate dimension of panto – it’s tempting to wrestle with the contemporary political implications of a Jewish momma genie coming to the rescue of a rampantly materialistic Muslim boy. Or is it something that wasn’t thought through?*

I could have done with more magic for the Genie’s appearances. If the Rep shows of yore could manage a flash and a crack as well as the big puff of smoke from which the Genie materialised to a shimmer of cymbals, surely Circa could do better than squirts of a smelly old glycerine smoke machine, not even well placed to create the required illusion.

Along with all his design work, plus writing the lyrics to the splendid array of songs composed by musical director and one-man orchestra Michael Nicholas Williams, Paul Jenden completes the cast, working just as hard on stage as the happy-go-lucky monkey slave Hankey and his grumpy twin brother Panky, variously facilitating activity with props, etc..

Jenifer Lal’s deft lighting (devoid, however, of anything truly spooky for the cave scene) is wonderfully executed by Amy Delahunty while the inestimable stage manager Eric Gardiner is kept busy at stage level and occasionally above it.

The whole Aladdin team is full of the joys of the festive season and keen to infuse you with their spirit so why not do yourselves and the kids a favour and go? I just hope full houses won’t mean they don’t bother to take next year’s panto to a greater level of storytelling and theatrical excellence.

Maybe it’s to redress the balance of offence taken a couple of centuries ago. This from Wikipedia:
The original full text includes a very antisemitic episode, usually omitted in the bowdlerized versions, 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.


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