The Keble O’Reilly filled up pretty well for the opening night of Aladdin, and it soon became clear why. Aladdin is not, admittedly, the most novel choice for a pantomime. But this was the only regard in which the Oxford Revue were unoriginal.
From the outset, it was clear that much fun had been had designing the set. Colourful fabric and bright rugs were strewn everywhere, and the effect was lovely. Possibly not authentic Arabian fare, but I don’t think that was ever the point. There was also an overture of sorts provided by a live jazz band – the band were a real highlight of the show, in fact, impeccably-timed and supplying a wonderful animation to the production.
The show is, in many ways, a caricature of traditional panto; it opens with Barney Iley sending up the traditionally officious DSM (and sending us into fits in the process). Typically for the Revue, there is a strong absurdist element in the script – and this is one of the show’s strongest features. Plenty of old-school gags and bad puns are underscored by entirely bizarre props and asides; the combination of them all means that all we’re intrigued, and occasionally bemused, but never quite alienated.
Audience participation is encouraged. In fact it’s sort of compulsory, Tom Dowling’s Widow Twanky being a pioneer of the (very physical) interaction. This is a relief, because for a long time at the start it looked like our only communication with those onstage would be via shouting “fuck off” at a telephone. Although everyone did seem to enjoy that bit.
Inevitably, of course, there were several elements which needed finessing. A couple of scenes appear a little gratuitous, apparently designed to push the plot on, and they’re not as funny as the others. There are some jokes at the start which would have been hilarious had they run throughout the show, but became incongruous because they did not. Occasionally the actors are drowned out by the band.
These are, however, relatively minor gripes given the colossal task of writing and orchestrating a pantomime, which ultimately the Revue has done very well. The show has a catchy song and energy in spades, both of which could cover a multitude of sins on their own. A few of the cast deserve special mention: David Meredith excels as the Genie, and Timid Market Seller (Michael Dunne) is positively superb. Caps must also be doffed to the technical crew, whose scene-changes were largely subtle and quiet, unlike literally everything else in the play.
On balance, this is a genuinely funny production. It isn’t flawless, and it certainly isn’t elegant, but pantomime isn’t really supposed to be and nobody seemed to mind. If you’re hunting for a festive way to procrastinate, this one has a bar.
Aladdin is showing in the Keble O’Reilly until Saturday 30th November. More information and tickets (£5 student) are available here.
PHOTO/ The Oxford Revue