I've a confession to make. I've never been to a pantomime before. So, stepping into the Opera House for Aladdin's press night, I was a little concerned that I wouldn't now, at the age of 24, be able to fully engage and enjoy the celebrity-clad spectacle I was about to see. Putting that aside though, I settled down with the family and did my best to get into the festive spirit, a glass of wine in one hand and some pick'n'mix in the other.
Now if you like me are a big fan of Disney movies, Aladdin has got to be up there as one of the Disney films you've seen time and time again. However, you shouldn't go into the theatre expecting much of what you've seen before if this is your first time seeing the show on stage. After all, the pantomime itself has been around a lot longer than the Disney movie of the same name. Whilst there is a magic lamp, a magic carpet, a Princess called Jasmine and a youngster named Aladdin, that seems to be where the similarities end.
Ben Adams takes on the titular role and doesn't seem to have aged a day. He's still the charming young rogue from A1, with an impressive vocal range and ability to light up the stage whenever he's present. He seems to be the perfect choice for Aladdin - someone the audience could really get behind and an absolute natural.
Cold Feet star John Thomson would step into the shoes of the villainous Abanazar, and he played the role perfectly, standing up to the audience whenever they booed him and belting out a line from Spandau Ballet's 'Gold' whenever the word was muttered. His comedic timing was always on point and he got perhaps the biggest reaction from the audience in the form of a loud chorus of boos.
Sherrie Hewson was for me the standout. She's an utter delight to watch. Though she pretty much plays herself on stage as Genie of the Ring, it's her dizzy personality and charisma that shines through. Another gem on stage is Eric Potts as the pantomime Dame, Widow Twankey. His costumes were a delight to witness and his humour was outstanding. Some of the voices he made and the improvisation that he implemented when other cast members were trying to keep their faces straight showed that he was the ultimate professional.
Neil Henry was the perfect man to keep the kids entertained throughout as Wishee Washee, and Joe Speare was a great Genie of the Lamp, but could do with a louder microphone or a little work on his annunciation. Props must also go to Claire-Marie Hall as Princess Jasmine, who I personally would have liked to heard a little more from in the songs, and Phil Holden as the hilarious PC Pong.
What was concerning here was the choices of songs used. Most of them seem to have been plucked from the UK Top 40 or from a Now That's What I Call Classics album, simply because of their recognisability rather than them actually playing a part in the story. For example, when Aladdin is riding his magic carpet (alone), he's not singing 'A Whole New World' (which doesn't feature at all in the show), but instead his own rendition of a-ha hit 'Take On Me'. Random, to say the least.
For me, pantomime is a little outdated. Using a mostly-white cast in a show that's supposed to be set in China could be deemed a little insulting, and the jokes used from time to time may now be deemed offensive. Though there are pantomime traditions that I know writers feel they have to adhere to, sometimes bringing a play or show up-to-speed with the modern day wouldn't go amiss.
In saying all that, the show was for the most part an enjoyable and interesting experience, to say the least. Eric Potts did a fantastic job writing and directing, whilst the choreography from Kerry Newcomb was extremely impressive. Those behind the set design should also take a bow - it was a glittering and magical offering from start to finish. Aladdin is the perfect show to take the kids to, with all those in attendance last night in fits of laughter every few minutes. And isn't that what Christmas is all about? Putting smiles on the faces of little ones? For that, Aladdin should be celebrated - even if it didn't give this 24-year-old the privilege of hearing 'A Whole New World' live and in person.
Aladdin runs at the Opera House in Manchester until January 8, 2017.
tagged in Aladdin