Adam Lee-Potter meets masterful villains and pneumatic dames

Marriage proposals, masterful villains and pneumatic dames, Adam Lee-Potter enjoys a family night out at the panto in Poole

Return of the Native 

Marriage proposals, masterful villains and pneumatic dames, Adam Lee-Potter enjoys a family night out at the panto in Poole

My first ever byline appeared in the Poole Advertiser above a tongue-tied review of an unintentionally comic production of Aladdin at Swanage’s Mowlem Theatre. The sets were wooden, the acting worse. But a thoroughly jolly time was had by all.

And that’s surely the whole point of panto. You don’t go for slick performances or aesthetic sophistication. You go for the boos, the ‘it’s-behind-you banter’ and the tacky joie de vivre. You go, let’s face it, for your children.

But it was, nonetheless, with a certain dread-filled d�j� vu that – 100 years on – I set out to see the latest take on Aladdin at Poole’s Lighthouse. I knew all too well what to expect: lashings of lavatorial humour for the kids, Dancing on Ice’s snake-hipped Ray Quinn as Aladdin for the mums, a bit of blue for the dads.

How wrong I was. My daughter Dory and her chum Shannon were utterly gripped from the outset, cheerily singing along to the Disney tunes, hooting in delight at Don Maclean’s preposterous and pneumatic Widow Twankey and howling with righteous indignation at Tim Flavin’s masterful villain, Abanazer.

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 The audience was a surprisingly eclectic mix: smitten teenage girls hanging on Ray’s every octave, childless couples, old dears and, of course, a battery of increasingly noisy children, intoxicated by the late-night stream of popcorn and jokes about wee.

 There was even a marriage proposal. Ray – who works a crowd like a pro – chummily handed over his microphone half-way through as a member of the audience nervously clambered up from the orchestra pit.

 “You’ve been my princess for ten years,” gushed the man, dropping to one knee and summoning his startled girlfriend. “Will you marry me?”

 When the bride-to-be quickly replied “Yes,” there was joyful pandemonium in the aisles. Now that’s what I call audience participation.

 Dory and Shannon were, by this stage, unsurprisingly agog though I was ever-so-slightly taken aback to hear, later, their favourite moment of the brisk two-and-a-half hours.

“The wedding proposal?” I asked hopefully.

 “No, silly,” they chorused. “The bit where the policeman farted.”

 Six-year-olds, eh?

 It was, however, strangely comforting to see the likes of Maclean – a giant of children’s TV in the 1970s, now largely forgotten – on the stage where he belongs rather than in the Australian jungle, eating witchetty bugs or moaning about beans and rice.

And it was hugely cheering to see generations united and entertained by innocent fun that did not involve a television set or computer. Yes, we live in straitened times. But, as ever if not more so, it is the little things that count and matter. Family is the best luxury, laughter the best tonic.

 When a man is tired of pantomime, he is tired of life. And so I raise a fond glass to 2012. It’s behind you! n

Aladdin is on at Lighthouse, Poole until

6 January 2013 (performances 3pm & 7pm). To book tickets call 0844 406 8666 or book online at lighthousepoole.co.uk

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