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Aladdin (Ipswich, New Wolsey Theatre

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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If it seems what is being said is interesting, children – even excited ones in a pantomime audience – will hush-up and listen. The first character in Aladdin whom we meet is a storyteller (Harry Myers, doubling the role of the Emperor) and his rhyming couplets explain why we join the story at this particular point. As for its eight predecessors, this rock’n’roll show has a small cast of highly accomplished actor-musicians and a whole laundry-basket of stage effects and trickeries.

Peter Rowe, the New Wolsey’s artistic director, and Alan Ellis wrote the script originally for Clwyd Theatr Cymru in 1998. It’s stood the test of time and Rowe’s production keeps the adventure flowing with lively characterisations from his players and a great deal of help from set designer Foxton and costume designer Alison Cartledge. Julian Harries offers an interesting Widow Twankey, less rumbustious than some others but always engaging with the audience. Nor is Sarah Mahony’s Princess just a pretty face for Aladdin and Wishee Washee to fall in love with; she’s a feisty young lady with a clear sense of where deceit is liable to lead.

Looking rather like an attenuated Nosferatu, Johnson Willis’ Abanazar (trailing a running joke about Abba at his coat-tails) is a thorough and slinky unpleasant villain, ripe for the audience’s boos and hisses as he schemes to take over the world. The lamp’s Genie is Shirley Darroch with a slight air of Sarah Palin in a glossy green wig and matching harem pants and there’s an intervention by pet monkey Nanas, who is athletically played by Francesca Loren.

This production has cast Aladdin and Wishee Washee from two actors who do look sufficientlt alike to be brothers. Alex Tomkins is our hero, not quite as simple as Abanazar would like him to be and someone who has lessons to learn before the happy ending. I felt for Gregory Clarke in his (literally) fall-guy role. All the songs selected by musical director Ben Goddard work in this context and, where appropriate, the cast belts them out with a will. I suspect that some of the audience may think that learning a brass instrument could be even more rewarding than plucking away at an electric guitar or hammering at a keyboard. Sometimes the phrase “actor-musician” is misused, but not in this case.

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