Devised & Directed by Paul Elliot
King's Theatre, Edinburgh
The real stars of Aladdin at the King's are Andy Gray, Allan Stewart, and Grant Stott, giving solid performances as Elvis McSporran, the Widow McTwankey, and Abanazer, respectively. Aside from these three, the show's acting runs a bit thin, with the notable exception of Masashi Fujimoto (the Emperor). Despite this, most of the groups in attendance still seemed to be enjoying themselves during the performance I attended.
The show is glitzy but insubstantial, which might seem like the perfect combination for a spectacular production intended for children. However, the Moulin Rouge practice of lifting parts of songs from other productions (the cartoon Disney version of the tale) and albums (modern-day pop songs also make appearances), then also composing new (and lacklustre) pieces is not fully realized to its best potential.
Designer Hugh Currant has given a unified appearance to the sets used for the piece, although some of the costumes (in particular that of Genie Gillian Foster) don't quite fit the rest of the aesthetic.
Without delving too far into the realm of the socio-political, it might be worth noting that, unlike Disney's film version, the panto is not set in the middle east. Instead, there is a section in the programme written by John Good Holbrook detailing how the story burst onto the British theatre scene at a point in time (the 1800s) when the British public was obsessed with the Orient - and the tale was transferred to take place in China, rather than the original Arabic setting. So far, so good. What makes this adaptation so uncomfortable, given that this is a story meant for children, is that in some ways this production holds up some very stereotypical views of the life and people of China.
The emperor, his vizier (Jordan Saflor) and the policemen are portrayed as bumbling incompetents, while Aladdin and the other peasants seem to live carefree lives interrupted only by the occasional demand that they bow down to the king. Meanwhile, McTwanky and McSporran storm through the natives' interactions as if they hold themselves to be entirely above the rule of the land. The resulting atmosphere isn't quite thick enough to convince me that this was done intentionally to highlight the inappropriateness of such behaviour, rather than an unwitting and unconsidered by-product of telling a tale set in a foreign country where the native way of life is assumed to be inferior just because it is different.
This is not to say that children's stories should be sanitized to the point of not addressing issues like cultural stereotypes and imperialism, and perhaps panto is not the place for such social-consciousness-raising, but this form is also one of the first places where many children in this country are exposed to theatre. As such, and despite the seemingly universally held idea (reality?) that Panto is primarily a way for theatres to get in the black for the new year, should the form (and those producing it) try to find new ways of representing ideas such as racism and cultural imperialism? Obviously, these are questions for all producers of panto shows, and not just applicable to the producers of Aladdin.
These questions and issues aside, there were many parts of the show which had audience members laughing hysterically (during a rehash of the old "Who's on First" routine, in fact, I laughed so hard that I cried, and then had to retreat to the ladies' room during the break and wipe off what little remained of my eyeliner).
On the way out of the theatre, I didn't see a single face without a smile on it. Clearly, all other points and issues aside, the cast and crew of Aladdin have put on a cracking Christmas show.
Reviewer: Rachel Lynn Brody