Assistant Director Lucy McCann gives us a brief glimpse inside the rehearsal room as the cast and crew prepare for the opening night of the Oxford Playhouse’s annual pantomime, Aladdin.
If you happen to have been passing through the Old Fire Station over the last few weeks you might have spotted a heavily sequined swan costume being whisked in and out of the building, stumbled across an invisible worm in the foyer or heard the echo of actors singing scales of “telly tubby telly tubby” from behind the theatre door. Fear not, there’s a rational explanation for all this mayhem. Panto season is well and truly upon us (Oh Yes It Is!) and the Old Fire Station, run in conjunction with Crisis Skylight Oxford, has played host to rehearsals for Aladdin: the Oxford Playhouse’s annual pantomime.
Aladdin has been written and directed by the inimitable Steve Marmion. Steve is a tall witty bloke who knows lots about tap dancing, football and theatre. It’s Steve’s first panto here at the Oxford Playhouse. When he’s not looking for a car parking space in Oxford, he spends his days being the artistic director of the Soho Theatre in London. He’s done a decent job of making lots of people laugh there and is hoping to do the same in Oxford this Christmas.
Steve has led a company of all-singing, all-dancing actor-superheroes (who I’m convinced have funny encoded in their DNA) through a fortnight of intensive rehearsals in order to stage this new version of Aladdin. Disney this is not: in the true spirit of the Great British Pantomime we’ve given the rags-to-riches fable our own lovingly irreverent treatment. Set in the Ancient City of ‘Ox-A-For’ (see what we did there?) and featuring a tough-as-nails heroine Princess Rose (along with her pet duck Pee King), Aladdin follows the footsteps of its lovingly gawky, eponymous hero as he tries to navigate his way through a world where money is tight but owning stuff and earning lots is seen as the only way to be successful (sound familiar, anyone?).
The panto rehearsal room is a weird and wonderful world to inhabit. It works at breath-taking speed. In two weeks, the cast have transitioned from strangers to a tight company who trust and care for one another and know exactly how to make each other laugh (especially when they are not supposed to). The script is in constant evolution during rehearsals. Sudden epiphanies and happy accidents inspire new lines of dialogue; similarly, nothing is safe from being cut; Tina the toy rabbit, our rehearsal room mascot, knows this only too well. Tina’s panto debut – set to be in play’s final scene - will have to wait for another year. You can ask her about it if you spot her looking wistful in the theatre bar.
Comedy is a serious business and this panto cast have worked tirelessly to hone their performances. In a mere fortnight the company have learnt seventeen musical numbers, blocked and refined two hours’ worth of funny business and learnt the choreography to enough ‘sets of eight’ to make Arlene Phillips faint. This wouldn’t have been possible without Musical Director Scott Morgan and Choreographer Lee Proud working their magic. Our stage management dream team have just about managed to keep a straight face as the props requests have gotten stranger (an inflatable saxophone, an afro wig plus some banana skins please) and sound cue descriptions have taken a turn for the absurd (what exactly would an anguished duck sound like?).
Collaboration has been at the heart of this endeavour and if I took the time to list each and every one of the creative and technical masterminds involved in putting the show together, this blog would be longer than Abanazer’s beard. I must, however, give special mention our very own Aladdin young company, made up of twenty talented young performers from the local area. They are an essential ingredient in bringing ‘Ox-A-For’ to life onstage and have some of the funniest one liners in the show. Team Fly and Team Sleek (joining together to make ‘On Fleek’, the flattering term the young company suggested Aladdin should use to romance Prince Rose with) have injected the rehearsal room with invaluable energy and enthusiasm. Their performances are sure to make their friends and family very proud indeed.
Rehearsing a pantomime is never really complete until it appears in front of a live audience. Audiences come up with funnier and more unexpected responses than could ever be fully anticipated in advance. The cast are very excited to meet the people that will truly complete the production.
Now all that lies between rehearsals and our opening night is a technical rehearsal involving making a magic carpet fly (using magic OF COURSE), working out Widow Twankey’s six costume changes (wigs and all) and letting the cast loose on the fantastic custom built set. Let the fun commence!
You can book your panto tickets here.