By Nigel Smith
DROPS of Light make a welcome return to the Liverpool panto scene this year with Aladdin. Moving from the Black-E to a new home at Hope Street Theatre, the performance is brought even closer to its audience in this cosy space, allowing us to see every tiny detail in this lovingly put together show.
The community theatre formula sees half a dozen professional actors joined by ensembles of adults and children from local drama and dance schools, some of whom are already climbing the professional theatre ladder.
Writer Jessica Lea has stuck pretty close to the traditional flow of the story, inserting plenty of local references but never overdoing it. She has gone for maximum child-friendly dialogue and a minimum of jokes for the adults, avoiding awkward questions at the breakfast table the morning after.
The central pairing of Aladdin and Princess Jasmine (or Jazz here) are played by Adam McCoy and Tori Hargreaves. Both have great singing voices and big stage appeal, making it really easy for us to feel invested in their story. Jamie Greer is a fine, traditional dame as Widow Twankey but the role is pared down somewhat, giving more focus to the flow of the narrative. While Greer certainly manages to fit in some of the usual set pieces, such as a laundry scene, they never bring the storytelling to a halt, as can often be the case.
Helen Carter and Maia Johnson spar with each other well as the Genie and the Slave of the Ring, and Carter especially has some great singing parts. Emma Bispham is a deliciously evil Abanazer, sporting a luxuriant moustache and goatee for no readily explored reason, but which certainly makes a talking point. She has a back story involving rejection from a girl band, which provides an excuse for some of her musical numbers. The score under MD Henry Burnett contains quite a collection of carefully chosen songs for all the cast, which fit well into the storyline.
Wishee Washee, Aladdin’s intellectually challenged brother (Liam Dascombe) gleefully makes himself the butt of everyone’s jokes, saving the rest of the cast the trouble of taunting him. It all makes for great humour and his lovable character has the audience totally on his side. Dascombe appears to make it a mission to high-five every single child in the house by the end of the night.
The adult and children’s ensembles provide strong support in the various smaller roles, with excellent choreography by Lindsay Inglesby. They enable the stage to be filled with movement and colour, and there are some well put together action sequences. One such scene, where the cast are picked off one by one by a mummy, gets the children so involved that some of them practically have to be physically restrained from chasing after them. Several were genuinely taken in by it and showed complete outrage when Aladdin was whisked offstage.
What felt like one missed opportunity in the tale was the possibility of a double wedding at the end – surely Jamie Greer’s Twankey is a perfect love match for Tony Sheridan’s aloof but seemingly lonely Emperor?
I’m not the only commentator to take note of the children in the audience, and they were almost the real stars of the show. Director Sam Donovan has clearly factored them into what he was doing with every scene, because the performance totally engaged them throughout. Of all the Christmas shows I have seen this year, this has to be the one with the closest connection to its young audience, making this a perfect solution for any parent looking for something traditional but not too saucy to take the family to.
Aladdin is at Hope Street Theatre until 30th December.