Wednesday, 11 January 2023

REVIEW: Aladdin at the Theatre Royal Bath

Aladdin is one of the best Pantomime titles, it's full of great opportunities for magical and comical business such as the Laundry scene, the attempts of The Emperor to stop his daughter being seen by Aladdin, the meeting of Widow Twankey and her long-lost brother-in-law Abanazar, the cave transformation and genie’s appearance, the magic carpet ride and of course Abanazar’ s final defeat. It has however become caught up in the debate about inclusivity and diversity in casting as it is based in China and because some past productions have included some racial stereotypes. The UK Production’s latest version with a script by Jon Monie which played at the Theatre Royal Bath until 8th January does its best to steer through this minefield with a diverse cast and set in Humdrum Heights while sticking with the traditional storyline and names. 

Tom Lister as Abanazar drives the show with a delightfully strong energetic performance, revelling in his evil persona and the audience’s reaction to him and geeing them up to react more. He interacted brilliantly with the stage right box having caught a young audience member out once and played on it beautifully thereafter. Indeed, his sortie into the audience armed with a water pistol was so distracting that the audience completely ignored the song being sung on stage! The character takes charge right from the start with a very good prologue setting out the story in a three-way rhyming couplet opening with the spirit of the ring (Amy Perry) and the Genie (Maddison Tyson) and then a well-judged comical romantic first meeting with Widow Twankey (Nick Wilton) in “You are the one that I want”.

Jon Monie plays Wishee Washee, as well as writing the script, and uses the plot opportunities to create some new-looking comic business. The best scene has him dressed as a tree to act as a go-between Jasmine (a stage debut for Kaysha Nada) and Aladdin (Alex Aram) and getting the messages wrong. There are also plenty of topical references that give the dialogue a fresh feel including train strikes, the Harry and Meghan documentary, Harry Kane’s penalty miss, Phil and Holly's queue jumping and the William and Harry fallout. It is a curious mixture of silly jokes, witty rewriting of lyrics as in “My way” becoming “I did it miming” and some rather too crude adult innuendo. Indeed, the playing of the piano without using their hands was in my mind one of the most Inappropriate routines for a family pantomime of the year and felt very awkward as part of a school’s performance. 

The musical choices with new lyrics were however very good with an excellent reworking of the Monkee's hit “HeyHey we are the Twankies”, a clever revision of Kate Bush’s “Running up the hill”, a fun update of the Chas and Dave hit as “Rub-it , Rub-it” and a well delivered “Bad to the bone”. Director Hannah Sharkey also includes some good business with failed magic tricks including the box escape and a good three-card trick as the song sheet. There is also a very effective magic carpet ride using good-looking projections on the gauze in front of the flying carpet effect and a well-executed traditional ghost bench scene with the Pillsbury Doughboy.

This is a production that has all the right elements, great musical choices, some good comic business and a simple but good-looking cave transformation and magic carpet ride with an experienced cast. Maybe it was the lateness in the run of my visit, but the pace and energy levels seemed inconsistent over the two- and a half-hour running time and the adult innuendo felt uncomfortable but Tom Lister’s stage presence and joyous embodiment of Abanazar ensured an enjoyable show. 

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★★

Seat: Stalls, Row N | Price of Ticket: £41
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