McKellen’s Widow Twanky in Aladdin a Hit With London Critics

By James Inverne
December 21, 2004

Ian McKellen may be better known for playing serious, even stern roles – from his famous RSC Macbeth to his villainous Magneto in “The X-Men” movies and “The Lord Of The Rings’” powerful wizard Gandalf. But at London’s Old Vic he is currently realizing what he has called his life’s ambition – to play a traditional (ie.in drag) pantomime dame, Widow Twanky in Aladdin. And the critics – as far as can be seen from the early reviews - have been delighted.

“We can tell our grandchildren that we saw McKellen’s Twankey and it was huge,” chortled Michael Billington in The Guardian. “He’s in seventh heaven.” concurred The Independent, “I think McKellen should give us his Mother Courage.” “McKellen is clearly having terrific fun and so, much of the time, are we.”, observed The Times.

The show runs amidst plenty of London competition, predictably so given the time of year. There’s another Aladdin at the Hackney Empire, as well as a Snow White starring the popular drag act Lily Savage at the Victoria Palace.

But it’s the Old Vic’s Aladdin, the second production of the Kevin Spacey Company, which has the most prestigious theatre cast. Roger Allam, fresh from Michael Frayn’s Democracy, is the villainous Abbanazar. Sam Kelly has hotfooted it from the National Theatre’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum to play the Chinese Emperor. Maureen Lipman, star of Cameron Mackintosh’s Oklahoma! and the recent London run of Thoroughly Modern Millie is Dim Sum. And, to further emphasize the show’s theatrical credentials, there are in-jokes which refer to Fiona Shaw and Trevor Nunn.

This new version of Aladdin is written by Billie Brown and directed by Sean Mathias. Designs are by John Napier, costumes by Mark Bouman, lighting by Mark Henderson and sound by Fergus O’Hare. Wayne McGregor choreographes, Gareth Valentine is music director.

Joe McFadden plays Aladdin, with Cat Simmons as his beloved Princess. Other cast members include Ramon Tikaram, Owen Sharpe and Joanna Page.

The show runs until Jan. 23 (times vary). For more information, call (0)20 7928 7616.