Review: Aladdin At The Epstein Theatre

Photo: David Munn
2016 is turning into a vintage year for musical Christmas shows in Liverpool. Companies seem to be focusing on the ability of their performers to sing and act rather than simply aiming for star names. Lee Kelly’s LHK productions have managed to strike a great balance in their casting for Aladdin, which is this year’s offering at the Epstein. Not only is Princess Jasmine the Atomic Natasha Hamilton, but Aladdin himself is a practically thermonuclear Sean Smith, who smoulders from his first appearance and goes on to set the theatre in meltdown with a show-stopping number that closes act one. Big Brother star Mark Byron provides a good comic turn as the Slave of the Ring, and whilst Magaluf Weekender’s Jordan Davis might not be winning any Olivier awards for his Genie of the Lamp, he does seriously threaten to out-buff Aladdin. Widow Twankey inevitably finds an opportunity to relieve him of the top half of his costume. There’s a welcome return from Lewis Pryor as Aladdin’s little brother Wishy Washy, and as a seasoned member of the team he holds things together with skill and has great command of the audience, even if some of the material written for him offers little for him to work with. Michael Chapman has again written the script as well as filling the role of Widow Twankey in his inimitable fashion. Once again a couple of children get dragged up onto the stage to be ritually humiliated by him, which they naturally enjoy tremendously – one of the things that make panto so hard to explain to overseas visitors. Chapman’s regular accomplice Tom Burroughs is a wonderfully dastardly Abanazar and the cast is completed with Lesley Butler as the Empress, a role that feels like something of an afterthought. Chapman’s ability to liven up the script and insert modern, local references whilst still staying surprisingly true to the traditional story is evident here, and the tale is lucidly told underneath the layers of seasonal silliness. Added to this is a team of adult dancers led by the exceptional Dance Captain Paul Bullock, and a host of juniors drawn from various local dance and theatre schools, with some delightful choreography from Holli Jo Bradley. Musical Director Matt Lawton heads the 3 piece pit band who pack quite a punch in some clever arrangements. This is traditional panto in every way, with a great sense of fun, a traditional story that the children will follow, and a healthy sprinkling of the sort of humour that goes right over their heads and aims for the grown-ups. And beware – this probably also qualifies as the wettest panto in town, with no place to hide from the merciless super-soakers! Aladdin plays at the Epstein Theatre till January 8th Review by Nigel Smith