Pam Anderson in a panto? Pam Anderson? As an American, I figured her visit to the annual extravaganza at the New Wimbledon Theater – which I’d previously skipped due to its sky-high prices – presented nearly unlimited opportunities for naff, whether due to her slim acting skills, her utter inexperience on the stage, or her complete lack of familiarity with the panto form (and as an American I can guarantee she had no idea what was going to be going on). And then there was the Brian Blessed factor. I only knew him as King of the Hawkmen from the 80s camp classic Flash Gordon; but per my intended fellow Pantonian Wechsler, Blessed is also well known … for a near pathological obsession with large bosoms. “Basically,” he sold it to me,”the two of them should work like baking soda and lye. I expect the fire brigade will be on alert.”
Two months later, the entire premise had degenerated into farce. Pam was now only scheduled for a third of the run; wait, no, she wasn’t going to even do that much & Ruby Wax was filling in for her on what was supposed to be opening night. And then my party of six went down to five, no 6, no (day of show flu) five, then finally six, then yet another person cancelled and even my original recommender said a work emergency might keep him away. It all seemed so doomed, really; was this a panto Black Mariah?
As it turns out, this is a perfectly servicable panto, with all of the requirements; silly costumes, silly dances, and silly songs. The audience participation is rather limited, though; while we got lots of booing in, there was a real shortage of “it’s behind you”s, the “oh no you’re not”s were forced, and the call-out to Aladdin’s brother Wishee Washee was unnecessarily complex.
Fortunately the overwhelming presence of Brian Blessed ably compensated for these deficits. As evil sorcerer Iwanna Banana (or suchlike), he eagerly engaged the audience, keeping us on point and the story moving along. Of _course_ he had the villainous laugh down pat, and he threw in references to his previous star turns and even his personal achievements to up the humor, but what he really had was stage presence in buckets. Twanky got the good costumes, but Blessed unequivocably owned this show.
Now that’s not to say that Pam wasn’t entertaining as the genie of the lamp – she got her lines right, participated gamely in an extremely comic dance routine, and mocked her own fame – but it was the slave of the ring (Djalenga Scott) who was cranking out the sex appeal. And Twankey (Jonathan D Ellis) was a pretty sharp dame, but …
I think this may have been where the blah dialogue, by-the-book costumes, and completely unimaginative songs cut this show off at the knees when it could have really shone. It should have gone for gaudier and even more over the top, and then this could have been the panto I was hoping for, but ultimately it felt canned and unengaging. Blessed is utterly brilliant, a panto force to be reckoned with, but even the power of Pam couldn’t keep this Aladdin from being limp.
*Now get Blessed and Ian McKellen in a show written by that genius at the Hackney Empire and _then_ we’d have a show to talk about for years!
(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, December 15th, 2009. Performances continue, with a variety of genies, through January 10th. For other reviews, see the Evening Standard and the West End Whingers.)