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Aladdin (Stevenage, Gordon Craig Theatre)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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Usually the player billed as the star of a pantomime is one of the comics – either the Dame or an Idle Jack or Wishee Washee. Volution Productions lives up to its name with Aladdin, for the main character turns out to be the villain – the wicked magician Abanazar. As he’s played by John Altman, familiar to most of the audience through his role in EastEnders, one can see the attraction and Altman revels in the opportunities the part offers.

It’s a stylish production as far as sets, costumes and special effects are concerned; Helga Wood is the designer. Aladdin Craig Perry takes off to retrieve his bride from Abanazar’s clutches with a magic carpet ride which is very well handled. The ghosts and ghouls which scare off Wishee Washee (Tom Beard) and the Emperor of China (Junix Inocian) are mummies from ancient Egypt – which is where the all-important lamp had been hidden – and the Princess Jasmine herself (Laura Emmitt) is a self-confident young lady strongly objecting to her father’s wishes to marry her off to the highest bidder.

Phil Holden is the Genie of the Lamp, giving a smart Elvis impression which contrasts well with Kate Burrell’s slightly agitated and cockney-voiced Spirit of the Ring. Director Paul Laidlaw also plays Widow Twankey; this is a soft-key Dame guaranteed to be taken to the audience’s hearts. Bad puns, the occasional double entendre and running jokes are a hazard planted in most pantomime scripts. This one has Altman declaiming snatches of Shakespeare (complete with act and scene references), which is funny to begin with but does go on, and on. Death by over-acting, indeed.

The script is by Paul Hendy, an expert in the genre. Paul Tracy’s choreography has its moments and the young chorus playing Old Peking’s junior citizens thoroughly enter into the spirit of the whole thing. It all makes for a nice show but not perhaps a totally coherent one.

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