Monday 9 December 2019

Aladdin, Gaiety Theatre review: The cast raises the bar from last year’s show

Gaiety Theatre, until January 19, 2020

The cast of Aladdin
The cast of Aladdin
Fiona Ness

Fiona Ness

Treading the boards - and the fine line between glamorous and gaudy, precociousness and political correctness, magic and musical theatre - the cast of Dublin Gaiety Theatre’s Aladdin deliver another generous serving of festive entertainment for this year’s panto season.

The story of Aladdin is an archetypal panto favourite yet you might worry that the narrative has lost its gleam for audiences, having been lavished with Disney love over the years - first as an award winning animated film and more recently, as a live action film.

Not so. Of course, it is in panto that the eponymous tale of the Arabian street rat really sparkles. Where else but in the stalls of the Gaiety Theatre, for example, can you experience an actual flying carpet hovering above your head? Or see a blue genie appear in a puff of cough-inducing smoke in front of your very eyes? Or watch a real Arabian princess So Shy (Linzi Cowap) rap and twerk in luminescent, Gucci-inspired clobber?

Strangely enough, panto is actually where the story of Aladdin adheres closest to its origins, in the centuries old stories called the One Thousand and One Nights.

Aladdin, for example, was not the orphan of the Disney films but lived with his mammy - played here by Joe Conlon as of pantomime’s best drawn dames, Widow Twanky (complete with washing line strung around her coiffure). And the villain of the piece was not the evil vizier Jafar but an evil magician Abanazer (Nicholas Grennell) who poses as Aladdin’s long lost uncle to trick him into retrieving the lamp.

The Gaiety’s Aladdin opens with gusto and its ensemble cast in pitch perfect form, singing and dancing in the marketplace of Agrabah. Aladdin - played with chutzpah and disarming charisma by West End actor Julian Capolei - works the crowd. When an undercover Princess Jasmine shows up, he helps her escape from the police after she finds herself accused of stealing. Each unaware of the other’s social status, they become smitten.

Starting to sound familiar from the bedtime stories of your youth? The arrival on stage of Garda PC (Stephen O’Leary) wielding his painted red hurley changes all that. The Corkman’s shrill tones soon put manners on the cast, informing them that they are no longer allowed to refer to us in the audience as ladies and gentlemen (offensive) or boys and girls (ageist).

The cast are in uproar but the audience are unperturbed and the story zips on regardless. Soon we are in the cave with Aladdin as he uses up two of the three wishes granted to him by a genie he has released from an old lamp.

With ne’er a Disney lyric to be heard, this production of Aladdin is peppered with original lyrics and stomping chart hits in rapid fire musical numbers which delighted the audience. A shame that some of the supersmart lyrics were pattered out so fast that they became inaudible in parts - especially for a younger audience who struggled to follow the thread of the storyline being rolled out in song.

However, there was an obvious vocal strength and confidence in the cast, who raised the bar from last year’s show, with standout performances by the genie (Norman Payne), princess So Shy and Aladdin himself. This was a show of great double acts, with brilliant chemistry between Widow Twanky and her second son, Wishy Washy; The Sultan and Garda PC; and Aladdin and the genie.

Aladdin ultimately finds love but also discovers better aspects of his nature as he uses up his third and final wish. There was a warning too, for boys and girls high on the Toy Show and Air Max runners, not to be too greedy in their Christmas lists this year. As the villain of our story finds out, you have to be careful what you wish for, as it just might come true.

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