Monday, 17 December 2018

REVIEW: Aladdin - The Dancehouse Theatre, Manchester.

Eight-Freestyle in association with The Dancehouse produce their now yearly tradition of panto, and this year it is the ever-popular story of Aladdin. I must thank the company for using my quote on their publicity - however the quote relates to last year's panto (Cinderella) and an organisation which I no longer represent.

Cinderella was indeed, a superb pantomime, with all the boxes ticked, thus leaving the bar extremely high for this year. I was very much looking forward to seeing Aladdin this year, and was hoping the standard would have been maintained. I have to say I was slightly disappointed, but only slightly.

There were two things which for me, let this show down a little. The first was the fact that it was too long. Finishing 2 hours and 40 minutes after it started might not be too long for an adult show, or indeed The Palace's 'Wicked' - but this show 'felt' too long, and the children were getting restless. Some of the sequences could either have been shortened or cut, especially the 'overture', and brought the running time down to a more manageable length. The second thing which was not as good as last year was the set design. Aladdin's set had to be content with, by and large, computer generated projections and tabs. Some of these projections were, where I was seated, blurred and out of focus, and thus failed to have the impact desired. I enjoyed the flying magic carpet sequence the first time it was shown, however, the second time round made the whole contraption and its mechanism visible to the audience thus losing all suspension of disbelief and 'magic'.

There was however, still a very good balance and mix between the traditional elements of pantomime [audience responses, talking in rhyme, mummy sequence etc] and a more modern twist, which this year was provided by not only modern technology-speak, popular TV catchphrases, and slang idioms coming into the show, but also with the choice of music. We had an Abba tribute, a Queen tribute, a Madness tribute, and goodness knows what else, all appropriately costumed and, for the Queen songs - excellently lit. Things like The Genieration Game though felt very awkward and dated.

All the songs and dances were taken from the pop repertoire, with only two slower, more ballad type songs all evening. This meant that the music pulsed through the whole show, which should have kept the show flowing and pacey. In the main this was the case, but there were a couple of very 'eggy' instances, which I am hoping were 'one-offs'.  Complementing all the songs this evening, as well as adding tiny cameos throughout, were a group of 5 youthful looking ensemble dancers. [Heather Dunwoodie, Courtney Leigh-Gibbons, Heather Davies, Katie Marie-Carter, Lara Howarth Scales].  Further dancers were provided for by youngsters from The Dance Academy. Two groups alternating performances [I saw Magic Of The Lamp group], and each group split into two smaller groups of older and younger dancers. All the dancing throughout the show was good, age and ability appropriate, and professionally executed.

There were many familiar faces amongst the principal casting. Red Remond's Juilan Clary-esque Genie of the Lamp was a funny idea and worked well for him. Perhaps he could have pushed this characterisation a little further to garner a few more laughs from the children though. Matthew Chappell was a very butch and forthright Widow Twankey, and Steven Jackson a friendly and put-upon Emperor. Helena Frances reprised her role as leading lady, this time as the Princess Jasmine. I had the feeling that she was capable of much more than she was giving this evening, and kept holding herself back. I am uncertain why this was or why I was getting this vibe. Her singing voice was beautiful and pure, and had a great stage presence. Completing the cast of those I recognised from previous occasions was Adam Urey, whose unique interpretation of Abanazer took me somewhat by surprise  Childish and petulant from the start, quasi-comedic, and never really truly evil. It was an interesting characterisation which seemed to work well for him, but one which seemed to sit on the fence somewhat and the audience only really booed him because that is the tradition. His solo, 'I'm Lonely' as good as it was, was actually far more comedic than anything, and obviously wouldn't win him an 'Ah!' from the audience due to him being Abanazer.

New-to-me cast came in the form of Tony Wright as Aladdin, who played it as normal and as straight as he could, even commenting on things to the audience as he went along. His performance reminded me very much of Richard Ayoade. Amy Gledhill was the northern lass styled Slave of the Ring, and gave us a solidly enjoyable and lovely interpretation of this character. Whilst the comedy policemen were Scousers Nik (Laurence Kelly) and Nak (David Allen).

Once again, pre-recorded music tracks were used throughout which leaves no room at all for cast fluidity and was also a little on the loud side too. However, written and directed by Sean Canning this was still a very enjoyable pantomime, and still maintained a high standard with excellent production values.

Reviewer - Matthew Dougall
on - 16/12/18 

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