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Aladdin (Leeds)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Aladdin can come in many forms, most frequently pantomime or opulent Arabian Nights extravaganza. Writer Mike Kenny and director Gail McIntyre opt for a quasi-improvised simplified version of the original Thousand and One Nights story performed by a selection of market traders and the dozy youth they co-opt to play the title part.

With the Courtyard re-aligned as a traverse stage, designer Barney George has great fun re-creating Leeds’ Kirkgate market, with the acting area spanned by a great arch and market signs all around. Music is very much home-made by the cast, composer/musical director Ivan Stott contributing a Sultan straight out of Hobson’s Choice in addition to pleasingly eccentric incidental music (much use of improvised percussion) and some decent songs, “Anything and everything your heart desires” meriting its several reprises.

It’s the sort of production where nobody gets away with just being an actor: street performers, illusionists and musicians make sure that the entertainment is continuous, as is the rapport with the very young audience. Simon Kerrigan’s “baddie” is a confidential comedian and eccentric dancer, Rew Lowe’s dolefully dignified and increasingly manic Genie a multi-instrumentalist. Gregory Bartlett (a devoted Aladdin) and Jenny Fitzpatrick (a totally self-centred Princess) are pretty much as vacant as each other and Katie Matthews is almost sensible as Aladdin’s irascibly loving mother.

The whole thing works extremely well, spreading out into the foyer as the cast drum up the audience, circus-style, with their music. With so much going on, it’s not the best piece of story-telling you’ll come across. Now and again the momentum slackens: interestingly, the performance I saw lopped nearly 15 minutes off the scheduled running time. Clearly to some extent the performers set their own pace and I can imagine the full 2 hours 5 minutes feeling a touch self-indulgent.


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