Aladdin – Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton

Reviewer: Selwyn Knight

Writer andDirector: Will Brenton

Shangri Fa! The land where everyone is treated equally. Well, in theory, anyway. In practice, some, like the Notary, are more equal than others. Among the residents is a shady Robin Hood-like character, Aladdin, who is pure of heart and has pledged to help others. But trouble is brewing: the evil Abanazar wants world domination (of course) and just needs the legendary magic lamp and its genie to get it. One hitch: the lamp is in a cave near Shangri Fa – but it is protected by powerful magic and can only be retrieved by someone pure of heart. And so begins the familiar story, all sprinkled with panto magic and sparkle.

Wolverhampton’s panto offering is slick and glittery, with great songs and choreography from an energetic young cast. There’s all the traditional fare, of course, with Aladdin’s brother Wishee Washee, and mother, Dame Dot Twankey, providing most of the humour along the way and driving the production on. There’s plenty of pantomime business – oh yes there is – and, spoiler alert, Abanazar is defeated and they all live happily ever after. It’s practically perfect panto fare. Much of the credit must go to writer and director Will Brenton who never lets the pace slip even in the mandatory panto segments so that it never drags or outstays its welcome; and choreographer Racky Plews, whose energetic choreography has a contemporary feel.

In any panto, the relationship between the dame, her sidekick and the audience is key and Ian Adams as Dame Twankey and Tam Ryan as Wishee Washee step up to the mark admirably, bouncing one-liners and ad-libs off each other well – as well as providing plenty of slapstick and clever, complex wordplay. There are local references aplenty to delight the audience (it seems that Shangri Fa has been twinned with Wolverhampton) and The Wolverhampton Song with lyrics by Ian Billings is a tongue-twisting delight – even if some locals might disagree with its definition of Wolverhampton’s boundaries. And, of course, Dame Twankey’s costumes become ever more outrageous, including at least one that is likely to be unforgettable, no matter how hard you may try.

Local performer Sofie Anné is Jasmine, not a princess, but she is the daughter of the Notary, making her a member of the ruling class. But this Jasmine is community-spirited and the equal of Aladdin; she shares his desire for a fairer Shangri Fa, proving to be more than his match in outwitting the Notary’s security forces. Anné is personable and has a cracking voice, a fine performance all round.

Zoe Birkett’s Spirit of the Ring is warm-hearted and very funny. From the beginning, she strikes up a warm rapport with the audience. And she, too, has a terrific singing voice that soars over the auditorium. Duane Gooden’s genie might give the slightest of nods to Robin Williams’ Disney creation, but Gooden goes on to make the role his own with good humour and a larger-than-life persona. Always a joy and stealing every scene he’s in is the pernickety Notary, played by Ian Billings. Billings’ Notary is part jobsworth and petty bureaucrat, part corrupt politician with an eye on the main chance and he is played to absolute perfection.

Fresh from Eastenders (and the butt of more than a few E20-based jokes) is Michael Greco, revelling in his role as the evil Abanazar. Strutting around the stage, Greco’s Abanazar is more than just the cartoonish bad guy and great fun to boo. However, Ben Cajee’s Aladdin is, by comparison, a little underwhelming and two-dimensional, although that does serve to big up Jasmine, so maybe a deliberate ploy.

With a sparkly set augmented by projections and animations, the production values of this Aladdin are high in every aspect and it’s a great night out for all the family. Highly recommended.

Runs Until 7 January 2023

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. 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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