Written By: Mark Armstrong
Date: December 16 2017
Location: Echo Arena Auditorium, Liverpool
We’re just days away from Christmas now, which means that the panto season is well and truly in full swing now. The latest venue to launch its festive show is Echo Arena Auditorium, with their offering of the timeless tale known as Aladdin. (“Oh, no they’re not!” “Oh, yes they are!”)
The story of Aladdin is fairly easy to follow for kids and adults alike: Aladdin (played by Michael Auger, star of Collabro from Britain’s Got Talent) and his daft family (his brother Wishy Washy, played by Mark Jones, and his mother Widow Twankey, played by Ruby Murry) are in Peking, where he encounters Princess Jasmine (the debuting Jessica Johann), much to the chagrin of her father who wants her to avoid falling in love with someone who lacks great wealth.
However, there is a chance for Aladdin to see his fortunes quite literally change overnight in the form of a magic lamp. There’s a challenge, though: the evil Abanazar (Dean Sullivan) has travelled to Peking (not Cyprus) with his sidekick Slave Of The Ring (Leanne Campbell) to locate the lamp, and he is willing to use Aladdin as a pawn in his dastardly plan. Ultimately, Aladdin finds himself in jeopardy, and so it is down to the power of magic for him to not only escape these troubles, but to also make his financial and romantic dreams come to fruition.
Ruby Murry stole the show as the hilarious Widow Twankey with some cracking and occasionally off-colour jokes, along with a number of extravagant outfits (the best being an oversized Asda carrier bag, with dozens of additional regular Asda carrier bags forming a wig, and a huge tea table set-up dress) and a spectacular vocal rendition of Nessun Dorma. Speaking of singing, Jessica Johann demonstrated some great singing talents in her pantomime debut, and chances are that we’ll be seeing a lot more of Jessica in the future based on her performance here.
Elsewhere, the special effects (which included a magic carpet for Aladdin) were very good, if at times a little overbearing when it came to the dry ice that covered the first few rows on more than one occasion. There was a lot of attention to detail with the backgrounds and the lighting, and the young dancers were clearly well-trained, with a couple of them delivering some priceless expressions during the extended dance routines. It took a little bit of time for the audience to warm to Wishy Washy but it eventually did happen, which led to some humorous moments of interaction. It was also Wishy Washy who controlled the scene towards the end where several children came on stage to sing Kung Fu Fighting (which had been sung by the main characters during the show), with one in particular (Oliver) having the crowd in stitches after giving some incredibly frank opinions about dating, specifically girls.
On the downside, the show was a slow starter, with many of the funnier moments coming in the second half. The acting felt a bit forced on occasion, and though some of the jabs at local areas were generally funny, a couple seemed unnecessary under the circumstances. Also, while I liked the way that the Genie was brought into the show, the dialogue was a bit weird, so the kids would have been baffled by what the Genie (voiced by Pete Price) was talking about. Still, there was a lot to like about this production, including some excellent musicians who played a vital yet understated role in moving the show along just in front of the stage, and the costumes as a whole were exceptional for every character, not just Widow Twankey.
To sum it up, Aladdin isn’t necessarily the most Christmassy panto that you will see over the next few weeks, but it is a lot of fun, and it’s a show that I’d definitely suggest that you bring the young ‘uns to see.
Overall Rating: 8/10 – Very Good