Review: Aladdin - Grand Opera House York

York and the festive period go hand in hand.  As outside, the busy shoppers enjoy the magic of Christmas, theatre-goers are offered a different brand of magic and a choice of two pantomimes in a city well renowned for its theatrical festive fare.

At the Grand Opera House this year is the classic tale of Aladdin with Steven Arnold, Coronation Street’s now deceased Ashley Peacock, taking the title role.  Surprisingly the television connection, which I am sure the theatre must be pinning a lot of their press work on, is only briefly mentioned on a couple of occasions.

All the key ingredients are present from the dim-witted Wishee Washie to Window Twankey and her interesting choice in wardrobe, a hissable baddie to a principal girl to steal the heart of Aladdin.  And, in general, they all come together to produce two and a quarter hours of family entertainment that will keep the children happy without too much pain for the grown-ups.

Arnold’s Aladdin is quite reserved and understated for a leading role and instead it is Aiden J Harvey as Wishee Washie who is left to drive the show.  He engages the audience well with his line in impersonations, appropriately cringe worthy jokes and audience participation.  It is noticeable how energy levels (both on stage and amongst the audience) seem to rise whenever he is present and in many ways he is the hero of this production.

Widow Twankey (Phil Randall), whilst no shrinking violet, is not as over-the-top or gimmicky as can sometimes befall a dame and is none the worse for this.  She (he?) works well with her two sons to good comic effect – though her attempted use of audience participation falls flat and should really be reconsidered. Dan Styles as Abanazar puts in a polished, solid performance but it would be nice to see him given a few better lines from a script that lacks any punch.  But a lack of punch is a common fault with the show. 

There are flat spots throughout where momentum seems to run out and the stage is left devoid of action or anything visually exciting, though the second act seems to settle more in to a rhythm and has a better pace.  Often it is left to the dance team to paper over the cracks – most noticeably at the end of Act 1 as a painfully overlong routine is used to cover a “quick” change for Aladdin.  Elsewhere, the slapstick scene lacks any imagination or spark and is lazily under developed.  It would be nice to think that these areas will tighten up as the run goes along.

On the plus side, Daniella Gibb as Princess Yasmin demonstrates her West End credentials with a couple of stunning solos that shine out amongst the mix of familiar songs that fill the show.  The dancers give it their all and the rest of the cast offer reasonable support to the main characters.
The set is fine, with the cave the stand out moment, and the band provide an accomplished soundtrack – though even they must get bored of playing “Hey Baby” so many times!

There is more than enough here to keep younger audiences happy – plus the genie of the lamp who offers eye candy to the mums (and, on the night I attended, girl guides) in the audience – but it falls a little short in the end.  A bit more attention to detail, a few more local references and some tighter direction would all be on my wish list.  Maybe I need my very own genie!

Aladdin runs until 1st January
Book tickets HERE

Review by James Eaglesfield