Aladdin (Stephen Joseph Theatre)

Andrew Pollard’s family Christmas fantasy delivers a modern twist on a traditional tale.

Anyone familiar with Andrew Pollard‘s reworkings of familiar children’s stories will know that Aladdin will contain imaginative and quirky variants on The 1001 Nights and the pantomime model. This Aladdin has to manage without Abanazar and Wishee Washee and Widow Twankey becomes Mrs Darzi. In a reversion to the original, the Princess rejoices in the exotic name of Badroulbadour rather than the tamely Disneyfied Jasmine.

Ian Crowe as Sven Gali in Aladdin at The Stephen Joseph theatre, Scarborough until 3 January 2015
Ian Crowe as Sven Gali in Aladdin at The Stephen Joseph theatre, Scarborough until 3 January 2015
©Tony Bartholomew

The main additions are no fewer than two villains, totally independent of each other. Sven Gali is a Norwegian (don’t call me Swedish!) magician and impresario who is determined to gain the lamp, even if he can’t pronounce it! Ian Crowe’s excruciating accent is one of the pleasures of a flamboyantly silly performance. Mr Ghobad belongs more in the real world: a property developer who wants to destroy the impoverished, but lively, slums of the East End where Mrs Darzi lives with her son Aladdin and has her laundry. Andy Cryer‘s Ghobad has a nice line in over-confident self-deception as he prepares to marry the Princess.

Surely the only version of Aladdin to start with an Arctic scene, it doesn’t quite maintain the same standard of originality throughout. Chris Monks‘ energetic production tips its hat to pantomime without becoming a panto: Aladdin (a confident professional debut from Jay Saighal) marks every entry with a call and response with the audience and there is a dame – and a very good one, too, in Paul Ryan‘s over-the-garden-fence Mrs Darzi, washer-woman and sometime member of Donna and the Kebabs. But the disparate elements don’t always gel.

Musically the cast’s instrumental skill impresses, but their playing is not integrated into the stage action, and the choice of songs doesn’t excite: Pharrell Williams’ "Happy" is everywhere this Christmas, but do we really need to hear it twice? The characters of the Princess (Arabella Rodrigo) and her mother the Sultana of Kashgar (Heather Phoenix) are undeveloped, though Phoenix has fun doubling as the Genie of the Ring. The "real" Genie (of the Lamp) is much more pro-active in this version: Victoria Hamnett colourful, animated, energetic and opinionated!

If the evening feels a bit hit and miss, there are by some way more of the former than the latter – and one very palpable hit is the work of eight members of the Young Company, in individual roles as well as ensemble, with a loveable elk almost the star of the show!

Aladdin continues at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough until 3 January 2015.