Mark Ludmon reviews the Royal Vauxhall Tavern’s panto Rubbed! starring Topsie Redfern, Robert McNeilly, Faye Reeves, Alan Hunter and Rich Watkins
Royal Vauxhall Tavern, London
At the start of this year’s panto at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern, we are warned that it will be “camp, stupid and tasteless”. And we weren’t disappointed. Writers Tim Benzie and Paul Joseph have cast a queer spell over the story of Aladdin, creating a sequel called Rubbed!. Genie is still living in her lamp, located in South Londonland, while Aladdin is enjoying his riches in the tax haven of Monaco. After wishing for a “fabulous queen” as his consort, he has accidentally transported washerwoman Widow Twanky from her Glasgow home to be trapped alongside him on the Riviera. Meanwhile, his evil nemesis, Abenazar, is again plotting to get his hands on the lamp and all its magic.
But this is no straight sequel. Princess Jasmine is nowhere to be seen, with Aladdin instead harbouring feelings for Genie, while there is a strange sexual tension simmering below the surface between Abenazar and Twanky. And there is a foul-mouthed fairy-like Spirit of the Ring who attempts to help them out with her crap magic, tragic carpet and aggressive glitter-throwing.
Re-assembling the cast of last year’s hit Goosed, Rubbed! is full of exuberance, packed with all the familiar trappings of panto but with a queer twist. At times, it may momentarily lose momentum and jokes may fall flat but another gag is never far behind.
Under musical director Aaron Clingham, the tunes are drawn from all over, reworked with new lyrics, ranging from pop hits to The Greatest Showman and even Baby Shark. In fact, the show greedily pulls in references from across pop culture like a sweet-toothed granny on speed at the pick ‘n’ mix but also brings in topical satire on Brexit and the panto-like politics of Westminster. There are also plenty of in-jokes for regulars of the Royal Vauxhall Tavern – it helps to know that drag star Topsie Redfern, who plays Genie, once caused a major security alert on the Tube after accidentally leaving behind a case containing wigs, heels and a ball gown.
Redfern is excellent, giving Genie the wide-eyed innocence of a children’s TV presenter gone bad – a marked contrast to her role last year as the diabolical Kelly-Anne Con-Witch. Widow Twanky may be no lady but Robert McNeilly makes her a show-stopping dame with her beard and growling comic charisma. Faye Reeves shines brightly as the Spirit of the Ring, while Alan Hunter and Rich Watkins add to the frivolity as the materialistic tax-dodging Aladdin and the wickedly camp mistress of disguise, Abenazar. And look out for Shirley Bassey and the ghost of Margaret Thatcher.
Again directed by Tim McArthur, this year’s offering from the Royal Vauxhall Tavern features all the joys of panto, with plenty of interaction with the girls and boys in the audience. The talented cast sound great, with some fine singing voices, and look great thanks to costumes by Bourgeoisie of Cut A Bitch Designs. It all works together to make Rubbed! a fun, filthy and gloriously silly show and definitely something just for the grown-ups this Christmas.
Running to 3 January 2019