Festive 19/20North East & YorkshirePantomimeReview

Aladdin – Gala Theatre, Durham

Writer/Directors:  Neil Armstrong & Paul Hartley

Musical Director: Mark Thompson

Choreographer: Amanda Woods

Reviewer: Mark Clegg

With Disney currently shedding a different light on some its rogue’s gallery in movies like Maleficent and the upcoming Cruella, as well as Serena Valentino’s hugely popular Disney Villains series of books, this production of Aladdin could have quite easily been retitled ‘Abanazar’. The villainous wizard opens the show and then proceeds to dominate it throughout, which is hardly surprising as Neil Armstrong not only plays the part but also co-wrote and co-directed the entire show. Not that this is a criticism: Armstrong is a supremely talented and charismatic performer with an easy rapport with the audience, the younger of whom he whips into an absolute frenzy with his amusingly cruel taunts. Its Armstrong’s wonderful opening that sets the tone for the rest of the show – extremely high energy.

That energy is maintained with the performances of the rest of the cast, particularly Paul Hartley as Wishy Washy and Paul Dunn as Widow Twanky. Hartley is Armstrong’s writing and directing partner here, and also matches him with his stage presence, talent and ability to work the crowd. His way with the children during the obligatory pre-finale sing-along is superb and his slapstick bits which include being attacked by a rabid kitten, sinking in quicksand, and being pooed on by a camel are hilarious. Meanwhile Dunn’s Twanky while physically slight, is big in personality and command of the stage. He has a great delivery of some wonderful lines and his gurning is used to its full advantage.

Although pantomimes are famed for casting certain roles with the opposite sex to the character, Aladdin’s Chinese policeman isn’t usually one of them. However Kylie Ann Ford is very funny in the role of Inspector Tai Chi, sporting a droopy moustache that is fooling no one. Also cast in a usually male role is Laura Lonsdale as The Genie and while Lonsdale is clearly talented, her Mockney accent is unwelcome and grating. Rounding out the principle cast are David Hosie as a vibrant Aladdin and Eleanor Chaganis as the feisty Princess Jasmine.

The script follows the traditional China-set story of Aladdin and is structured more around the story than most pantomimes. There are not many traditional music hall-style comedy routines, instead the laughs come from character driven jokes which makes a very nice change. However some of the comic highlights comprise of supremely silly stuff including Twanky and Wishy Washy interacting with a camel and Abanazar’s attempt to seduce an extremely embarrassed member of the audience. Other aspects of the script are slightly less successful including a quartet of Egyptian mummies (played by children) being Abanazar’s sidekicks: it’s a good initial joke that quickly gets played out.

Hartley and Armstrong’s direction is slick which is sadly not something that can be said for the scene changes. However, otherwise the show is technically competent including a good sound balance and some impressive (if sometimes over the top) lighting design. The show doesn’t have too many flashy special effects (which is brilliantly played on with Abanazar’s magic tricks always being masked by a blackout as he audibly mutters about what he is doing) although the magic carpet sequence works extremely well and generates the appropriate “oohs” and “aahs”.

This is as traditional a pantomime as you can probably expect to see this year and is all the better for it. With a talented cast throwing themselves into it and having fun, the enthusiasm effortlessly transfers over the footlights and the result is magical.

Runs until 5th January 2020 | Image: Lee Dobson

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The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Mark Clegg. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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