Monday, 13 December 2021

REVIEW: Aladdin at the New Theatre, Cardiff

The Chuckle Brothers were one of the very best Pantomime acts and children's entertainers and following the death of Barry Chuckle in 2018, Paul has since kept the legacy of their act alive in Pantomime with different partners in the same routines. Here in Cardiff he plays Wishee Washee and opens with his traditional song “I have got some ..” on his own, does a bog-standard Mastermind Sketch and follows with the Cucumber cutting routine with the Genie and then the singing lesson with the Dame and a member of Ensemble, all the elements are there but the comedy magic of the brother's relationship is missing and the routines feel like they need a refresh. A new routine with a music player alongside the Dame falls flat despite their best efforts. He remains a wonderful old school variety Entertainer but is no longer in charge of the Pantomime.

Unusually for modern Pantomime, the drive of the show falls to the Principal Boy and Principal Girl who rise to the challenge magnificently in their songs and dances together. Denquar Chupak is excellent as Princess Jasmine and makes a good impression from her opening song where she is joined by Gareth Gates as Aladdin and later together in “Hung Up” and “Nights get colder”. She also takes on the key fight scene to defeat Abanazar to give the story a modernised feel. Gates gets his show highlight when he flies on the Twins FX flying carpet over the audience to end Act 1.

Abanazar is played with a deep rich booming voice (which is sure to scare the younger children) by Stefan Pejic and creates a formidable evil villain and opens Act 2 with “Know my name” although lighting Designer Rory Beaton goes overboard with the green and red flashing and moving lights and audience blinders in a very distracting light show. Stephanie Webber looks and sounds amazing as the genie of the ring, Scherezade but it is Gareth Thomas who provides the real surprise of the show making a formidable muscular powerful Genie of the Lamp and although he does not first appear until the end of Act 1 his strong stage presence shows he has made the transition from rugby player to an entertainer. 

Mike Doyle has 31 pantomimes under his belt and the experience shows in his performance as Widow Twankey in some amusing costumes including a dress with two pandas and a magnificent Christmas Bauble dress. However, his best moment is as the runner across the stage in a refreshed version of the tongue twister “Shirley Shaw sits” rewritten as “we are short a short sleeve shirt” between a very game Gates and the underused Lorraine Brown as the Empress where the Dame’s dress looks like she is being carried by a doorman in a red coat. I doubt you will see a better version of this routine anywhere this year.

Equally when they come to the Songsheet replacement routine, “If I was not upon the stage” they deliver a perfect well-rehearsed routine in which Gareth Thomas becomes the victim of all the actions of the Dame, Aladdin and Wishee Washee, outshining the weak version just up the road in Swansea. 

The show is directed by Matt Slack, who has led the Birmingham Hippodrome pantomime for many years as a brilliant comic and while he and the script by Alan McHugh keep the story moving forward at an even pace using the cast well, he has clearly kept some of his best new comic material for his own performance when he opens on 18th December. Aladdin sometimes gets criticised for its racist undertones but here the show is set firmly in Chinatown in Cardiff with dominant Welsh accents and local references. 

This is a good cast, well-directed and generally very well-lit with an even pace and good narrative thread but despite that the comedy is disappointing and need an injection of more gags and pantomime business that I am sure Matt Slack will include in Birmingham.

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★★

Seat: Circle, Row F | Price of Ticket: £26

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