Director: Jonathan Kiley
Manchester’s Opera House says “it’s behind you” to a terrible time for live theatre. After the country’s enforced suspension of pantomime last year, Manchester’s Opera House, in association with Crossroads Pantomimes, are producing the big festive delight that has been a staple for numerous years. Aladdin is a thrilling magic carpet ride to rescue Princess Jasmine and return her to Mancunia!
Star casting this year goes to Alexandra Burke as Scherezade – the spirit of the ring. Rising onto the stage through a trap door there is a feel of her X-Factor winning past and a touch of Beyonce. She has all the glamour and star quality required as well as a crowd-pleasing rendition of one of her most famous covers of Jeff Buckley’s Hallelujah. Backed by an ensemble of eight dancers she delivers her ballads with power and displays her extensive vocal range as well as her fun comic interactions with Wishee Washee (Ben Nickless).
Stepping into the countless dame’s stilettos this year is drag queen Ceri Dupree as Widow Twankey. Dupree demonstrates an ease to the role and is extremely enjoyable. Whilst effortlessly walking in stilettos Dupree has much more to contend with whatever comes balanced atop of his head! Mike Coltman’s dame costumes are as outrageous as they come and mostly come topped with a towering hat several feat high! Dupree’s washing machine costume was a particular highlight and by the walk down finale the teetering hat was so tall it took a Herculean effort for it to stay vertical.
As expected, the production values at The Opera House are first class. Ian Westbrook’s set flies in an out with extraordinary speed. Those that saw Cinderella two years ago (or maybe Chitty Chitty Bang Bang elsewhere) will know that visual special effects experts The Twins FX really can make magic happen in a theatre and, without giving too much away, Aladdin’s flight on the magic carpet at the end of the first half is a truly wonderful sight for children and adults alike. The same device is used as Princess Jasmine (Rumi Sutton) defeats the giant snake Abanazar (John McLarnon) transforms himself into. Through young eyes these are amazing theatrical experiences.
With Matthew Croke as Aladdin and Rumi Sutton as Princess Jasmine the love story is safe – although they don’t have much to do in Alan McHugh’s script. Perhaps because McHugh knows that Manchester’s Opera House wants more time for local favourite and regular Ben Nickless as Wishee Washee. Winning the Best Panto Comic in the country for his turn in Cinderella a couple of years ago the producers most likely ensured he was booked this year before any of the star names for the posters. Nickless has an enormous talent and carries the pantomime with old-school, end of the pier routines and humour. Setting the bar at the beginning with his topical rap about the … shenanigans in Westminster, he immediately wins the crowd. His short ventriloquism routine wearing a face covering as he is not two metres away from the puppet is inspired. Risky and risqué, he never quite oversteps the line although there is much fun in seeing where his line is. “He’s a bit rude” my eight-year-old whispered to me with an enormous grin on her face! Here’s hoping he is already booked for next year.
After the shutdown of theatres Aladdin may very well be a family’s first venture back into a live theatre environment for a very long time. This production is a treat from start to finish.
Runs until 2nd January 2022