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Aladdin

reviewed at the Towngate Theatre, Basildon on 8 December

Home-grown pantomimes have the edge on commercial ones. Thy are tailored for a local audiences and the smaller theatres which house them add a special intimacy. Take Aladdin, Brad Pitt’s Christmas season show for Simon Fielding (who directs and plays Wishee Washee) at the Towngate.

It provides a couple of interesting variations on the story. Forget Abanazar – instead, we meet Aunty Banazar, a slightly ambiguous person as to gender once s/he travels to China. Sophie Ladds doubles the character with the Slave of the Ring in the prologue.

Again, this often downtrodden  slave isn’t what you expect. Rather she’s a single mother with a gob full of Estuary English and, like many another woman in her situation, she has perfected the art of delegation. She never answers her mistress’ summons but send her brood of children, the Ringlets, in her place.

Marianna Neofitou’s Princess Jasmin is a bright young lady, running circles around her father the Emperor (Nigel Peever). Under Matthew Reeves’ musical direction, the songs come over very well. Sam Ebenezer makes a likeable hero, though it might have been better if the script had made him Wishee’s younger (not elder) brother.

Widow Twankey is in the safe hands of Daniel Stockton, a Dame with attitude as well as a way with the audience. Visually, the ostumes lookgood and so does the well-varied choreography of Aisling Duffy and Ebony Clarke. Dominating the dance sequences from the Cave f Wonders scene onwards is Wade Lewin’s energetic Slave of the Lamp.

Flying by Foy does the magic carpet sequences proud; even the most cynical youngster in the audience didn’t fail to have been impressed, as Aladdin’s journey took him high into the auditorium over our heads.

Four and a half-star rating.

Aladdin runs at the Towngate Theatre, Basildon until 2 January. Performance dates and times vary, so check the theatre’s website www.towngatetheatre.co.uk for availability.

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Filed under Family & children's shows, Music Music theatre & Opera, Pantomimes & Christmas season shows, Reviews 2017

Aladdin

(reviewed at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester on 5 December 2015)

The Mercury’s director Daniel Buckroyd has co-written the script for this year pantomime Aladdin with Fine Time Fontayne. Buckroyd has ensured that there are some new elements to the familiar story. For example, Abanazar (Ignatius Anthony) is a disgruntled revenge-seeking former court magician and Wishee Washee (Dale Superville) is undergoing work experience with the palace police (Laura Curnick as Pong and Simon Pontin as Ping).

Curnick and Pontin also play the beehive-headed Spirit of the Ring and a magisterial Genie of the Lamp respectively. Superville is a Mercury audience favourite and quickly has the audience on his side. Antony Stuart-Hicks makes a commanding if slightly abrasive Widow Twanky as she tries to keep dreamy apple-scrunching Aladdin (Glenn Adamson) in check. Tim Freeman is the Emperor.

As heroines go, Sarah Moss makes Princess Jasmine a girl with sirit. Once she wriggles out of the paper-bag which her father insists she wears to hide her beauty from the common folk, she sets about getting her own way in no uncertain terms and proves a far more dangerous opponent for Abanazar than Aladdin manages to be.

Musical director Richard Reeday has a nice way with tunes both familiar and unfamiliar – “Three little maids from school” is particularly enjoyable in its new context. Juliet Shillingford’s designs and Charlie Morgan’s choreography are attractive and keep the action flowing. There is a real sense of characterisation and commitment to the performances; this is a pantomime for both the youngest and the oldest theatre-goers.

Aladdin runs at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester until 10 January.

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Filed under Pantomimes & seasonal shows, Reviews 2015

Aladdin

(reviewed at the Civic Theatre, Chelmsford on 5 December 2015)

One From The Heart is again the producer, in association with Chelmsford City Theatre, of this year’s pantomime. It’s the ever-popular Aladdin with Liam Ross-Mills in the title role. His somewhat naïve quest for the riches which will enable him to obtain the hand of the Princess Jasmine (Gabriela Gregorian) is, of course, triggered by his encounter with Shaun Chambers’ Abanazar.

Last year’s Peter Pan is this year’s Wishee Washee – Samuel Parker. He establishes an instant rapport with the children in the audience, abetted by Tim McArthur’s Widow Twankey. Then there’s David Tarkenter as the Emperor, all bombast and fluster as he seeks to find a wealthy prince to wed his feisty daughter and restore his crumbling finances.

The immortals are Millie O’Connell as a no-nonsense Slave of the Ring and Neal Wright, a commanding presence with a voice to match, as the Genie of the Lamp. Damian Czarnecki’s choreography is bright and puts the ensemble and juvenile dancers and those youngsters playing Abanazar’s minions through their energetic paces.

In Act One, the slop scene in the laundry has acquired a couple of novel twists (and slips) while Aladdin’s magic carpet journey to Abanazar’s lair elicits a proper response of gasps as he swoops over the stage and orchestra pit. Tim Curran is the musical director; Simon Aylin both wrote the script and directed it.

Aladdin runs at the Civic Theatre, Chelmsford until 3 January.

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Filed under Pantomimes & seasonal shows, Reviews 2015

Aladdin

(reviewed at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch on 4 December 2015)

It can be tricky for a theatre to decide on which traditional story is to be the basis for this year’s pantomime. One for the girls? or one for the boys? Aladdin was a favourite last year, and here it is once again winning the popularity stakes.

Matt Devit is the director for this year’s Hornchurch show with a script by Nicholas Pegg, designs by Mark Walters and original music and arrangements by Carol Sloman. This is a team which knows its audience and gives it a clever blend of twists on tradition to hold child and adult attention alike.

In a career first, Fred Broom plays Widow Twankey. He has clear ideas about how the Dame role should be played and has eye make-up which looks like a tribute to the 19th century’s favourite Dame Dan Leno as well as a nice line in outrageous frocks. Twankey also has a running “Chinese proverb says…” joke.

Starting it all off is Sam Pay’s Abanazar, as slinky and slimy a villain as you could wish to encounter in or our of his green follow-spot. That endangered species, the female Principal Boy, is represented by thigh-slapping, heel-booted Naomi Bullock. She has just the right degree of swagger which the part demands.

Rachel Nottingham doubles Princess Jasmine (not a lady to be walked over) and the Essex-girl Slave of the Ring. The Genie of the Lamp and the oh-so-obsequious Vizier are doubled by Thomas Sutcliffe. But of all the characters, it is Wishee Washee who the youngsters really take to their hearts. This year it’s Matthew Quinn’s turn to keep the audience returning his greetings and be the fall-guy at his mother’s laundry.

The Emperor is Callum Hughes – and look out for the Yeti once the snowy regions of Tibet are encountered. Dan de Cruz leads the three-piece band; the “we’re okay” number is particularly catchy and the choreography of Donna Berlin and Hannah Harris fills the stage with movement.

Aladdin runs at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch until 9 January.

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Filed under Pantomimes & seasonal shows

Aladdin

(reviewed at the Rhodes Arts Complex, Bishop’s Stortford on 14 May)

No, Christmas hasn’t suddedly arrived in the springtime. Christopher Moore’s dance version of the Arabian fable of Aladdin has been created for his own Ballet Theatre UK. We all know the story, that of a poor but carefree lad who falls for a princess, is bamboozled by a magician but finds help partly through his own unexpected resources and partly through the aid of two genii trapped respectively in a ring and a lamp.

Moore puts the story firmly in its original Levant setting – no China, no fall-about comics and definitely no widowed mother. The market-place setting for most of the early scenes is colourful, with whirling, rainbow-hued costumes for the girls and voluminous dark breeches allied to short jackets for the boys. Pivoting triangular structures indicate the changes of scene.

The choreography is suited to the abilities of the company.For the most part, the girls of the corps dance on demi-pointe, with full en-pointe reserved for the spirits until the second part – Jessica Hill is a particularly strong Slave of the Ring – and Ines Ferrira’s winsome Princess. Vincent Cabot’s smiling villain of a sorcerer swirls folds of black cloak as he grasps for domination.

David Brewer makes a likeable hero, somewhat akin to Ashton’s Colas from La fille mal gardée. It’s one of those stories where the second part requires quite a bit of padding, which we receive in the form of a sequence of duets and trios interspersed by full corps numbers.

Ballet Theatre UK is one of the few companies which genuinely try to reach places and audiences which other classical ensembles cannot or will not attempt. As an introduction to classical ballet, the majority of the company’s own creations (not to mention its versions of established repertoire pieces) usually work very well. Aladdin, however, somehow doesn’t quite pull it off.

I’m fully aware that the production of fully-illustrated programmes is an expensive operation, especially when advertising revenues for printed matter seem to be on the decline. But – especially for a new work such as Aladdin – a simple two-page A4 cast and creatives list with a plot summary could surely pay for itself. I overheard many foyer grumbles about this.

Aladdin can be seen at the Key Theatre, Peterborough on 6 June and at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds on 15 and 16 June

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Filed under Ballet & dance, Reviews 2015