Catching up with an old china has never been this much fun

A quick straw poll among the group I took to the Copenhagen Theatre Circle’s ongoing production of ‘Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp’ revealed the difficulty of appraising pantomime: everybody had a different favourite character – proof that it really is for all-comers.

Michel, early 40s, a Dane, liked Huangshan (played by Mario Paganini), the son of a lord who will employ villainous means to marry the princess. “Just looking at him was enough to make me laugh,” Michel chuckled.

Karla and Rosa, both eight, British-Danish and Danish, were won over by the zany energy of Wishy-Washy (Kaan Arici), the brother of Aladdin and ‘friend’ of the audience, just like Buttons in ‘Cinderella’. Sitting on the front row, they screamed with laughter when he frontally probed them – young girls today, they’re so fickle.

Billie, five, British-Danish, was obviously still in dreamland when asked the next day. Given the one word edgeways she rations me a day at home, it was amazing to see her sit so still, wondrously dumbstruck by the proceedings. Her only audible words in three hours were a softly-spoken, rehearsed “He’s behind you” – the villain’s disguises were that good we only had cause to use it once.

Her favourite character? She changed her mind four times before opting for Aladdin (Sebastien Bagot), a good choice, not just by Billie, but the producers, who in Bagot have bagged another title character to bring the same heart-felt sentiment that was at the centre of Cinderella’s success a year earlier.   

And Daddy, so close to 40 you can smell the fear, British, really enjoyed the performance of Abanazar (Martin Popplewell, the landlord of St Nicks, which from February 1 will be reopening as the Red Lion), an evil magician whose plans to rule the universe depend on the acquisition of a certain lamp. He, like the genies, mostly spoke in rhyme and interaction with the audience – preferred prose styles overall to gags (some worked, some didn’t) and word play. And while I’ve never really noticed this across the bar before, Popplewell’s really quite sinewy and bulbous-eyed and uses these features to great comedic, comic book effect.

And as it is my review, I think I’ll quickly add that I enjoyed watching Debbie Taylor who played WPC Pang. Her performance recalled those of Joyce Grenfell as the policewoman in the early St Trinian’s films. When the characterisation’s that good, you don’t notice the weak lines.

However, entering the Krudttønden theatre, we’d kind of expected we’d encounter some characters we’d like more than others – what made this particular pantomime stand out was its surprise element. The puppetry above the curtains to convey that Abanazar was looking down into the darkness of the cave was inspired. As was the installation that took us on a whirlwind magic carpet ride from China, via a rollercoaster, to Egypt.

There were some truly memorable ensemble moments, particularly those led by the Genie of the Lamp (Josh Shires), whose infectious rhythm and rousing stage presence had everyone bobbing along Bollywood-style, and no doubt some of the ladies swooning. And the costumes and props this year were marvellously intricate – hats off to the designer Maria Lundbye and creative co-ordinator Nathalie Bessonnet who should give up their day jobs if this isn’t what they do already. Some of the disguises used by Huangshan and his father – our very own columnist Frank Theakston, who during his impression of an ape proved that at the age of 70 he truly is the oldest swinger in town – were so ingenious, they fooled some of the audience, or at least me at any rate.

The CTC has certainly found a winning formula in panto, and staging it at such a small theatre (just 100 seats) put the audience so close to the action, they become part of it. It really is intimate – like spending an evening with old friends. Not everyone will laugh at the same time, but laugh you most certainly will.

Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp

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