Review: Aladdin – Orchard Theatre, Dartford

Aladdin seems to be the pantomime of choice this year, with magic lamps being rubbed up and down the country. It’s easy to see why; the spectacle and exotic settings providing a sumptuous backdrop to the onstage clownery.

The Orchard Theatre’s production, though, has added a new twist to the Eastern setting, mixing the Orient with EastEnders. With Albert Square’s Phil Mitchell (Steve McFadden) becoming evil Abanazar, the far East/East End fusion is complete.

Aladdin’s tale is a well-trod road, from classic tales through to Disney animation, and indeed the show uses some of Alan Menkin’s songs to underscore the action. It’s the classic boy meets girl, good versus evil tale that has plenty for the audience to cheer and boo along to.

David Burrows’ production manages to take this well-loved plot and give it a fresh twist, thanks to some ingenious staging and an on-form cast.

Steve McFadden sets the tone from the outset, his trademark gruff growl echoing out over the footlights. McFadden pitches Abanazar just the right side of malevolence, enough evil for the audience to rail against but still believable.

Luke Newton in the title role is perhaps less successful, in part due to the role being slightly underwritten. Yes, his Aladdin falls for the Princess, discovers the magic lamp, and is the good guy the audience roots for but his quest seems somewhat lost. Newton sings well and his duets with his Princess (Nicola Meehan) soar but we don’t ever really get to know this Aladdin.

Normally the Dame overshadows any panto and, while Barry Hester’s Widow Twanky is a gloriously Technicolor creation, here the comic top spotlight falls on Matt Slack’s Wishee Washee.

Slack’s performance glues the piece together, from genuine warm repartee with the audience, the classic one-liner and a real physical presence, it’s hard to take your eyes of his performance. Slack’s face is one of the most elastic in pantoland, constantly in motion and contorting into a range of expressive features. It’s an performance packed so full of energy that it’s tiring just to watch.

Equally impressive are the acrobatic skills of the Trio Serik, though only two performers were on stage on Press Night, their gravity defying aerial work eliciting gasps of awe from the audience.

In an age where cinemas are embracing 3D technology, it’s encouraging to see theatre move towards high-tech as well. Here effects company Amazing Interactive have created a stunning 3D Genie that soars out across the auditorium. This is technology fully integrated into a live action environment, effects are so well planned that audience members can frequently be seen ducking to avoid the menagerie of creatures that fly out of the screen to attack the audience. The pivotal Magic Carpet sequence also makes effective use of the 3D effects, providing a real sense of motion.

A good pantomime provides entertainment for all ages, and Aladdin ticks all the boxes with plenty of cross-generational humour. For a traditional panto with a modern twist, you couldn’t wish for anything more.

Originally written for The Public Reviews

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