Aladdin review – emperor Boris on a magic carpet ride with a splash of TikTok

Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

Lyric Hammersmith, London
Satire has a disconcerting consequence in Vikki Stone’s punchy and superbly sung version of the traditional panto

I’m sure there have been Peppa Pig World jokes in pantos UK-wide this week. But the Lyric’s is backed up by real commitment to the mock-Boris principle. In Aladdin, written by musical comic Vikki Stone, the Emperor (Kate Donnachie) is a Johnson clone – or should that be clown, given the tubby tummy and outsized shoes? Scenes set in his palace unfold in a replica of Downing Street’s much-mocked new press briefing room, where Irvine Iqbal’s Abanazar announces his nefarious plans with a PowerPoint presentation (“Next slide … next slide …”)

This all comes in act one of Abigail Graham’s production, which is even more knowing than you’d expect (it opens with an ensemble refit of Blur’s Parklife: “We’re in a panto”), and more concerned with satire (flag-waving nationalism is a particular target) than the basic business of establishing likable characters with whom we want to spend time. Happily, that all falls into place post-interval, when Qasim Mahmood’s Aladdin cultivates a little more charm and Gracie McGonigal’s Wishy gets a showstopping number about the kinds of wishes genies can’t fulfil.

Out of the bottle … Gracie McGonigal as Wishy, Kate Donnachie as Genie and Qasim Mahmood as Aladdin. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

Mind you, the singing is top-notch: Ellena Vincent’s Jasmine is particularly strong. As you’d expect of a show by a comedian, there are some choice gags: I liked that “open sesame” was only the first of several security measures needed to open Aladdin’s cave. And there is droll business with a pair of fisher’s waders, as our heroes prepare the TikTok sea shanty that will spring Jasmine from the vile vizier’s clutches. The other standout moment is the magic carpet ride, a sweet romantic encounter and a heart-in-mouth illusion that had me fielding “How did they do that?” questions from my kids all the way home.

One disconcerting consequence of the characters’ increased lovableness in act two is that Boris Johnson is revealed to be a good egg after all. Oh, that he’d been trapped for a thousand years in an oil lamp instead, like his Machiavellian wingman. But not all wishes come true. Your dreams of a fun Christmas night out, on the other hand, will – at this this punchy, non-soppy, winning London panto – be handsomely realised.

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