Salisbury Playhouse

There's a tradition in the variety business known as "working the audience". Never mind great comedians like Max Miller and Ken Dodd; every provincial pantomime player knows the score.

Well, at Salisbury Playhouse this pre-Christmas season, school audiences, determined to get the most out of the company's latest homemade treat "Aladdin", have turned the tables. Hundreds of screaming 8-12 year-olds are rising to their feet and making the players dance to their tune.

Thus Tom Peters, offering a slim, laid back, Del Boy scoundrel of an Abanazer, is confronted with a wall of cacophony to be matched only by a Victorian-style villain of old! Against such traditional expectations from his youthful patrons, Peters' - and Abanazer's - only answer is, surely, histrionics!

It's the same for most of the young and otherwise talented company. Too much script can be dangerous with young audiences no novices when it comes to Arabian Nights. Yet most of the ingredients are in place in this production by Joanna Read (who co-writes with Stuart Thomas) and Caroline Leslie.

Costumes are generally colourful and sparkly, particularly those of David Ashley's high haired Widow Twankey. My only reservation here is that Victoria Lugg's Aladdin and Emily Pithon's Princess Jasmine appear in unisex attire, blurring the distinction between principal boy and "his" conquest.

Full marks to Richard Foxton and his team for splendid settings and with musical director Andrew Allpass and his busy drummer Dean Blake working wonders in the pit. Maggie Rawlinson's choreography, too, made us want more dancing which, with a couple of really big musical numbers would lift proceedings to the realms of real magic.

But don't take my word for it - I asked the other kids!

"Aladdin" runs at Salisbury Playhouse until Saturday 10 January with matinees most days at 2.15. (Box Office 01722 320333)

Reviewer: Kevin Catchpole

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