Old school joy with new school naughtiness, Alezzin is a preposterous panto that will have you licked and laughing!
Evil sorceress, Ebola Abanazer, seeks a mythical lamp containing a genie that will make her the most powerful being in the whole world. But it’s locked in the Cave of Jewels that may only be entered by Alezzin: the son/daughter of a launderette mistress in Old Pecking. Fitting themselves out as the emperor’s royal adviser, can Ebola get what she wants whilst Alezzin falls in love with the princess?
Gareth Joyner (aka Myra DuBois) is no stranger to adult pantos, having peddled their special pedigree of filth for several years at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern. So hopes were certainly high for Alezzin, and I was overjoyed to be invited to review Alezzin even though on the final evening of its run. Thankfully, Joyner did not disappoint.
What’s interesting about Alezzin is just how much it harks back to the old fashioned musical hall variety pantos of yesteryear. Whilst Stuart Saint’s pantos such as Dick! and Sleeping Booty have old school variety panto stylings as a singular skit, Joyner fully embraces Vaudevillian audacity whilst lovingly taking the proverbial. However, it’s not all retro, and there’s certainly enough of modern pantomime influence and tropes that stop it from being a period piece. The result is that Alezzin is a sniggeringly ironic and apologetically sardonic knees-up that serves as an energetic vehicle for Joyner’s battery acid wit.
Although Alezzin’s style might be a bit “retro”, its jokes are certainly incredibly current to the point where “too soon” has been left far behind on the horizon. Parts of Alezzin are not just close to the bone, but indiscriminately saw off limbs as it goes along. Like with any adult panto, everything must be taken with a massive dollop of context and a huge vat of salt, or you’ll be running back to Tunbridge Wells more disgruntled than ever. But even though Joyners quips can be borderline offensive, it doesn’t detract from the fact that, given the context they’re used in, they’re guaranteed to raise a shocked gasp or a very guilty guffaw. Joyner makes intelligent gags of everything in Alezzin, from the long-suffering veneer of its embattled characters and actors with its purposefully cheap puns and seemingly exhausted routines, to how cleverly songs – pop, musicals, and even TV theme tunes – are re-appropriated for Alezzin. In fact, once you strip away the innuendo, the inappropriateness of many of the jokes, and the sheer irony of its style, Joyner is de-wigged as a meticulous wit that knows exactly how to get the raise they want and when, and very intelligently putting it all into a panto that never outpaces itself. Like any other excellent adult panto, Joyner knows exactly when to hold back on the reigns to keep things well paced and consistently hilarious.
Direction & Production
Alezzin is pretty much a boutique panto, making the most of its stripped-back production values. The set is pretty much the one scene with a literal handful of dressings for some slight change of location. But it doesn’t matter, because even that becomes part of the running gags that get lacerated up by Joyner’s script. In fact, Joyner’s writing really needs little set dressing for it to work, and thus the focus stays squarely on the performers and the text. However, the dressing that costumer Donald Marshall does provide are lavish and gives Alezzin a sumptuous sparkle, even though it’s not an absolute necessity, along with added high-kicking verve from choreographer Lee Crowley.
The only problem with Alezzin is that there are moments that just don’t have quite enough oomph. Some bits just don’t quite push the comedy as quickly as it could (although its never so slow that it drags). Then, there a couple of musical numbers that, no matter how well Musical Director Matthew Johnson tries, just can’t the sound to sing in the space at the back of the Two Brewers using just an electric piano. It’s a shame, because it’s only in these moments you’re suddenly aware how bare-bones Alezzin is. Otherwise, Johnson does an excellent job elsewhere in really responding to the entire casts’ often unpredictable comic quipping and pacing in the songs, making sure the music flows with this and never trips it up.
Casting really is superb and features arguably some of London’s best cabaret performers. Leading the cast as Widow Twankstain is the indomitable Myra Dubois, accompanied by London Cabaret Awards 2015 “Best Drag Act” Holestar as Ebola Abanazar, and YouTube star and performance artist Harry Clayton as Willy Fook, to name but three of Alezzin’s top performers. But that’s not to say that Sooz Kempner as the titular Alezzin, Lucy Frederick as Princess Ana-Lee, and Marlon Kameka as the Genie of the Ring/Camp as unworthy of their casting or fail to hold their own against the monumental stalwarts. Kempner is perfectly deadpan, with just enough irony to keep the knowing laughs coming but without it ever becoming old hat, not to mention a great deal of girly gusto and a brilliant voice to match. Frederick as Ana-Lee brings a brilliant larger than life vibe to Alezzin and just oozes comic joy from start to finish. Kameka, though taking a bit of time to warm into the character, eventually was a slick and steamy genie who revels in the fun of the panto with the rest of them. The there’s Clayton Wright, who brings their mix of camp, twisted sexuality, and pop-culture trailblazing to Alezzin and does an excellent job of working the crowd as Willy Fook with disgraceful grace and a tilted sense of fun.
However, it is Myra DuBois and Holestar really steal the show. Myra’s ad libs and audience participation/harassments are highly volatile laugh fodder. Even though they diverge from Joyner’s marvelous script, Myra ensures that these asides are as whip-cracking as the rest of Alezzin. Holestar as Ebola Abanazar is also a perfect villain, working the crowd into a maelstrom of booing and hissing in every scene, but is also a performer who’s comic delivery, especially regarding the more risque jokes, is dead on target, whilst also boasting a singing voice that literally combats Kempner’s.
Alezzin is certainly one of the stand out jewels in London’s 2015 adult pantomime crown, proving that wherever Myra/Joyner goes, some of the most outlandish and jaw-dropping laughs follow.
Alezzin played at Two Brewers, London, SW4 7UJ from 3 – 30 December 2015. For more information about That’s Good That Is, visit http://thatsgoodthatis.com.