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(Posted 19/12/03)
East End Theatre's panto production a treat for all ages
By Fred Sherwin
Orleans Online

Michael Kavcic plays the Widow Twankey in the East End Theatre's pantomime production of 'Aladdin' currently playing at the Shenkman Arts Centre. Fred Sherwin/Photo


 

With Christmas less than a week away, it's the perfect time for some holiday entertainment, and what better way to be entertained at this special time of year than to take in the East End Theatre's latest pantomime production "Aladdin".

Before there was Walt Disney or a Broadway, London audiences used to crowd theatres during the holiday season to watch pantomime productions of Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood.

The traditional pantos are known for their reliance on satire, risque jokes filled with double entendre, musical production numbers and a villain. Finally, a true panto must always include the prerequisite "Dame", a female character played by a male actor in drag.

The East End Theatre production of "Aladdin" contains all of the above in spades.

Unlike the Disney version of "Aladdin", the pantomime tale of a young lad who finds a magical lamp with a genie inside, is set in China.

Aladdin's mother is the Widow Twankey who is usually played by the dame. In this case the dame is played by Michael Kavcic who does a superb job in the role. You'll be rolling on the floor in laughter when he/she comes out in his/her evening gown.

Aladdin, played by Sherry Thurig, falls in love with the Princess Say Wen, who is played by Orleans Young Players veteran Samantha Chan, but the princess' parents, Emporer Chop Suey the Twelfe and the Empress Dragona the Thirteenth, plan to marry her to the Grand Vizier, Chow Mei, who is played by David McNorgan.

The penniless Aladdin doesn't stand a chance until Ebanazar, the Egyptian magician shows up in search of an honest youth who has the power of opening a legendary cave which is said to be filled with gold and jewels and a magic lamp.

Ebanazar is played to the villainous hilt by East End panto veteran Ron Kok who tricks Aladdin and the Window Twankey into thinking that he is the long lost brother of her late husband.

Aladdin opens the door to the cave with the famous words, "open sesame", but only he can go inside. When he finds out that Ebanazar is trying to trick him, Aladdin runs back into the cave where the villainous magician casts a spell locking him inside with the magic lamp.

As you might have guessed by now, Aladdin rubs the lamp and frees the genie who grants his every wish. The young boy is now the richest man in China and the Emporer and Empress agree to let him marry the princess.

But alas things go terribly wrong when Ebanazar, disguised as a peddlar, tricks the Princess into trading the magical lamp, which is old and tarnished, for a brand new shiny lamp before their wedding day.

You can probably imagine what happens next. Ebanazar takes the lamp and the Princess and returns to Egypt, returning Aladdin back to his life of poverty. But there's yet another twist, Aladdin has the magic ring which he uses to conjure up the slave of the magic ring who transports Aladdin, his brothere Wishy-Washy and the Widow Twankey to Egypt to save the day.

Like most traditional pantos, "Aladdin" is wonderfully entertaining from beginning to end. Between the music, the jokes, the ridiculously over the top performances of Michael Kavcic and Ron Kok as the Widow Twankey and Ebanazar, and the sprinkling of local references, "Aladdin" is one of those special treats that makes live theatre so incredibly enjoyable.

The other wonderful aspect of traditional English panto is audience participation. Heckling, booing and cheering is not only tolerated it's encouraged. So everytime Ebanazar appears on stage he is booed ferociously. When Princess Say Wen wonders out loud whether she should trade the old magic lamp for a new one, the entire audience screams in unison -- "No, don't do it".

If you see just one play this year, I can't recommend strongly enough that you go see "Aladdin". I promise you won't be disappointed.

Directed by Diane Barnett, "Aladdin" continues at the Shenkman Arts Centre with four more performances today and tomorrow. Curtain times are 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. today and 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. tomorrow. Admission is $20 for adults and $15 for children. Tickets can be purchased at the Shenkman Arts Centre box office.

The main characters in the East End Theatre's pantomime production of 'Aladdin' are from left to right, Emperor Chop Suey the Twelfe, the Widow Twankey, Empress Drogona the Thirteenth, Princess Say Wen and Aladdin. Fred Sherwin/Photo


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