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Aladdin | St Helen's Theatre Royal

It’s the most wonderful time of the year at St Helen’s Theatre Royal as audiences are transported to Old Peking to experience the wonders of Aladdin. The story of Aladdin is not without its obvious issues, but writer Liam Mellor does well to navigate the ever-thinning line between offence and humour. But don’t be fooled, this is a classic and accessible pantomime with strong production value and pyros-a-plenty. The costumes sparkle, the audience get involved and the sound of laughter fills the air. Music choices didn’t try to pander too much to the younger members of the audience which helped keep the adults interested. Audience-facing blinders used in scene changes aided smooth transitions and kept the story moving along nicely.

Producers Regal Entertainments must be credited with an exceptional 3D magic carpet ride experience. Something totally new to me in the theatre, the whole sequence was entirely captivating. The same technology was used to great effect in the ‘Ghoulie’ scene, a modern take which lifts this often-boring ‘filler’ section to new heights. The entire audience gasped, jumped, screamed, shouted ‘He’s behind you!’ at the top of their lungs and were utterly encapsulated by the whole thing.

Transcending the usual confines of panto and stealing the show as Aladdin and Jasmine are newcomers Alex Aram and Jess Smith. Each bring an element of class to these often over shadowed characters and stun the audience with their sublime vocals. Aram’s silky smooth voice and charming demeanour immediately evokes Disney Prince, and he’d certainly be right at home in the cast of musical theatre smash-hit “Hamilton." Smith wows with her presence and vocal power, delivering an enchanting performance fit for a princess. Their duet, a medley of love songs, is the musical highlight of the show.

Providing all things comedic were the quadruple-act of Widow Twankey (Richard Aucott), Wishee Washee (Lewis Devine), Genie of the Lamp (Tim Lucas) and PC Shameless (Warren Donnelly). Some for the young, some for the old – there were plenty of jokes that hit both camps. Audience participation is key to any successful pantomime and Devine picks his ‘victim’ early on, not letting up for almost two hours, executing brilliant one-liners with great comedic timing. Where would the classic panto be without its dame? Aucott duly delivers with a dry style that has become synonymous with the very best. Lucas’ Genie is as vocally strong as he is hysterical, ably riffling through at least a dozen accents a la Robin Williams. The children in the audience certainly loved the slapstick involved in Donnelly’s performance as bumbling buffoon PC Shameless.

Two celebrity ‘pulls’ made up the featured cast. Leanne Campbell as Genie of the Mirror was nice enough and clearly had the children engaged, though the pre-recorded nature of this element was a little underwhelming and seemed to provide a struggle for the on-stage cast at times – projection doesn’t allow for off-piste, unscripted hilarity that can ensue when all the cast are performing live. The evil Abanazer, played by Liam Fox, had his own Emmerdale-inspired entrance music, and convincingly portrayed the baddie with a demonic laugh.

The full-out dance routines were superb as the full cast delivered Nazene Langfield’s choreography with aplomb. I do, however, wish the production team had trusted the clearly very talented cast a little more to deliver the vocals over the top of this exceptional dancing, and that the tap routine performed by a chorus of ‘tappers’ had actually featured said dancers wearing tap shoes. The blatant miming in both instances was quite off-putting.

A pleasant experience awaits anyone who steps foot inside the beautiful surroundings of St Helen’s Theatre Royal, with the Front of House staff keen and willing, even at the final performance of a gruelling three show day. That said, parents of excited children and audiences in general could probably do without the every thirty second interval announcements that sweets, drinks, and merchandise are available in the foyer!

Despite the gripes, with a couple of tweaks this could be a 5 Star Pantomime. At the advertised prices, it’s an absolute bargain! Perfect for families and people of all ages. Aladdin at St Helen’s Theatre Royal runs until Sunday 14 th January 2024. Tickets and more information can be found here.


AD | gifted tickets in return for an honest review | photography by David Munn


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