Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Aladin et la Lampe Enchantée

Created by the company from a working script by Sophie Millon
Théâtre Sans Fontières
Queen's Hall, Hexham, and touring

Je suppose qu'il me faut écire en Français, parce-qu'on a écrit Aladin en cette langue. Mais ça sera trop difficile pour moi et donc j'écrirai en Anglais.

Théâtre Sans Fontières is a theatre company based in Hexham (Northumberland) and touring throughout the UK, which produces shows for children in French and Spanish. The aim of the plays is to encourage an interest in language-learning, so it is kept fairly simple and the company makes it easy for even a non-speaker to follow the story. Certain phrases and sentences, even groups of sentences, are repeated fairly frequently and the children encouraged to join in so they come away having gained a little knowledge of the language.

I was sitting next to a group of year 9 students from a local comprehensive school and they seemed quite surprised - and pleased - at how much they understood. I suspect that at least one Modern Languages teacher will have an easier time enthusing his/her students in the next couple of week!

But the BTG is not an educational journal but a theatre website, so how does Aladin et la Lampe Enchantée rate as theatre? Of course, the story of Aladdin and his wonderful lamp will be familiar to most of the children seeing the show - though they may be surprised to learn that his mother is not Widow Twankey! - but TSF does keep very closely to the traditional story (which, of course, is found in The 1001 Nights).

Since working as a venue manager for the Takeoff 2003 Children's Theatre Festival last October I have gained a very healthy respect for children's theatre and TSF did not disappoint. Some 250 or so local schoolchildren certainly enjoyed the show, although I did feel that, at one hour twenty minutes, it was a little too long, and the number of kids trooping out to the toilet in the last thirty minutes - they can hold it in, you know: they do at school! - tended to support that view. At the hour mark, the year 9 boy next to me muttered to his pal that he was getting "a bit sick of it now", and, again, I had to agree.

On the other hand, this was only the second performance and I am sure the company will be working on eliminating the longueurs (French: notice that?). Part of the shortening will come from speeding up the picking up of cues and faster set changes (not that they were particularly slow, but they will speed up), but they do need to look again at the first hour and eliminate the excess. There is a fine tightrope to be walked between repeating something sufficiently for it to become familar to the children and over-repeating it. I think the Genie's song, for example, did begin to irritate. It's actually a nice song - catchy melody and easy to learn - but the audience-tolerance-indicator on my left stifled a groan when it appeared once too often.

Make no mistake: it's a good show and does what it sets out to do, and does it well. It just needs fine tuning.

Reviewer: Peter Lathan