Writer: Andrew Pollard
Director: Joyce Branagh
Musical Director: Rebekah Hughes
Assistant Director: Rachel Gee
Designer: Mark Walters at Glitter Pantomimes
Reviewer: Ron Simpson
Aladdin follows the always successful formula of the Lawrence Batley Theatre – and indeed several other theatres in the area: an essentially traditional approach, though with regional variation, a talented and hard-working ensemble of maybe seven or eight supported by an excellent junior chorus and a small live band, due regard to the narrative to stop it becoming just a series of turns and a winning mixture of lavish design and homely fun.
This always works well and in a way, it’s quite difficult to decide what makes this Aladdin so special. For a start the writing/directing team of Andrew Pollard and Joyce Branagh are both steeped in pantomime: the programme reveals that he writes pantos for at least three theatres and plays the Dame at a fourth and one of her pantomime scripts is being performed elsewhere this Christmas in addition to her Huddersfield directing duties. The two of them work hand in glove to make sure that this one takes off from the opening minutes with the partly rhyming exchanges between Richard Hand’s preening Abanazar and Stephanie Hackett’s crazily wigged Genie of the Lamp, given to explaining complicated formulae at high speed – she knows everything, you know.
Pollard has no sense of shame when it comes to the corniest of puns and the cast are all expert at that playing of the sub-text that’s half the fun of pantomime – the sort of performance that implies, “Yes, I know I’m an evil magician/a cruel Empress/a simple street-boy in Peking, but I’m quite normal really and this is the silliest stuff.”
Everything is unforced, including the audience responses: Thomas Codran’s amiable Aladdin may go through the time-honoured exchanges of, “I can’t hear you” in the opening exchanges with the children, but in reality they are up for it from the beginning and the laughs and shouts of warning or greeting arrive spot on cue (and occasionally off cue) throughout the two hours of stage time.
Musically, old favourites are dusted down to great effect: the new lyrics for Widow Twankey’s washerwoman 9 to 5 are smart, funny and hectic and the whole ensemble gets to work through a crazy melange of money songs – and the presence of a reeds player in the pit together with the usual keyboard and drums adds colour to the accompaniments.
The cast is first-class individually and mesh together perfectly as an ensemble. Nicola Jayne Ingram and Stephanie Hackett are an irresistible double act as hapless Chinese policemen and way over-the-top Genies. Krissi Bohn is as domineering as any faux-aristocratic Empress would be – and a lot more fun than most. Richard Hand leers and sneers convincingly as the would-be ruler of the world and falls apart even more convincingly. Thomas Cotran is a cheerfully determined, thoroughly likeable and ever so slightly bewildered Aladdin and Alyce Liburd as Jasmine is rather more feisty than the average Princess. Robin Simpson’s Dame bustles energetically, confides drolly, and times everything to perfection.
Rachel Gee’s chirpy choreography brings out the best in the bright young team of dancers and it’s no surprise that designer Mark Walters works for Glitter Pantomimes – and don’t you just love a panto that uses a visit to Egypt as an excuse to revive Wilson, Keppel and Betty’s Sand Dance, with Twankey as a somewhat over-dressed Betty?
Runs until 6 January 2019 | Image: Anthony Robling