Director: Kully Thiarai
Writer: Matthew Bugg and Tobias Oliver
Reviewer: Andrew White
Rewind to a year ago, and the new theatre in Doncaster – Cast, had only just opened a couple of months previously. The Christmas pantomime Cinderella was a bit of an unknown quantity, would it be the same as in the town’s old theatre, the Civic, or something different? Well, it quickly became apparent Cinderella was in a league above anything seen at the old venue, and really was an appropriate metaphor for the vision and intended direction of Doncaster’s new theatre.
So could Aladdin, Cast’s pantomime for 2014, live up to that? Are sequels ever as good?
From a behind-the-scenes look, Aladdin has a good pedigree. It’s directed, as Cinderella was, by Cast’s Artistic Director Kully Thiarai, and is written by Musical Director Matthew Bugg along with Tobias Oliver. On stage, two of the cast will be familiar with audiences from Cinderella, as both Sara Sadeghi and Brett Lee Roberts return to the town’s festive offering.
Aladdin follows Cinderella’s lead in using songs from pop music and changing the lyrics to make to fit the plot, and although all the cast who sing are very strong performers, Stephanie McConville as Aladdin has a particularly amazing and powerful voice, which is a joy to hear. The cast are also consummate musicians – and in another element retained from last year’s pantomime, they take their turn in providing the music on-stage. Many people in offices will be familiar with “hot-desking”; well, the Aladdin cast have “hot-keyboarding” where an actor plays a track on the keyboard, gets up to deliver their lines, and a different actor sits down at the keyboard for the next tune.
Stephanine McConville excels as Aladdin, giving the lead a degree of naivety and likeability required, and is the perfect foil for Danny Burns as the evil Uncle Abanazar. Burns’ villain is cool, calm and slimy, a sort of mellow evil in deep contrast to Elizabeth Marsh’s Baroness Fiendella in Cinderella. You’re not going to be scared witless by Abanazar, but you’re sure aware of the plotting and scheming going off with him. Alan French as Widow Twankey pitches it beautifully, with the aid of some stunning frocks, attacking the complex linguistics in the script with relish.
Brett Lee Roberts as Wishee Washee has a lot less to do than as Buttons, but he makes the best of what is has, although perhaps more could have been made of his comic talents. His Cinderella co-star Sara Sadeghi infuses Princess Jasmine with a sassy, clever edge which is very refreshing.
The script is bold in its liberal use of double entendre, and isn’t afraid to stray into satire; the word “pleb” in one confrontation with the Chief of Police for example. It’s also not afraid to mine Doncaster’s left-leaning politics for gags too.
It is, however, slow and slightly underwhelming in the first act. This isn’t helped with only a few scenes of note taking place in the first half; the cave sequence being one of them, which is particularly well done and choreographed.
Fortunately, the second half is much better. The storyline picks up and the amount of gags increases substantially to a point where half the audience sometimes miss little asides because they are still laughing from the last two jokes. This is the act most people will remember – including the closing scene; an impressive cast assemble which engages the team of young dancers from local dance schools in a wonderfully imaginative way.
There is a great deal to love about this interpretation of Aladdin, with all the cast giving their all. The scenic and costume design have been lifted too, with a very impressive set design which helps tell the story. Proper Pantomime catchphrases are scatted throughout, but more could have been made with them in the script perhaps paying off at the end.
So is the sequel as good at the original?
Certainly. It perhaps didn’t feel so during the first half, but the second felt more ambitious and confident. Aladdin is a great evening out for all ages and continues the great tradition of pantomimes at Cast started a year ago.
Runs until: 3rd January 2015
Photo Credit: Alex &Janet Dursaw