Panto Review: Aladdin - Churchill Theatre, Edinburgh ✭✭✭✭

Review by Anne Mackie

It’s no lie, when you think of a pantomime, one of the most celebrated narratives is that of Aladdin. Thanks to the Disney film (and most recent musical) adaption, we all know the original story, the infamous characters and the iconic musical numbers. It is what we have come to expect from various stage adaptions of the classic tale. However, Balerno Theatre Company (yet again!) exceed all expectations and deliver a production that gives an eminent plot new energy, combining much loved tradition with a modern twist to create the perfect panto cocktail – a recipe many other production companies should take note of this Panto Season.

Kudos in this respect must go to Director Audrey Jones who not only directed BTC’s current production, but also co-wrote the script alongside company favourite, Michael Davies. Directorially, Jones hit all the comedy hot spots through her array of lovesick leads, malicious villains, extravagant Dames and not one but TWO Genies! Inspired gags, spoofs and jokes are on pointe, initiating belly laugh moments for even the most panto-abhorring audience members!

From the moment the show opens, the audience are treated to a plethora of excellent musical choices and arrangements (thanks to Musical Director James McCutcheon) including Arabian Nights, Uptown Funk and Never Had a Friend Like Me, to name but a few. Vocals were expertly delivered across the board with particular highlights from Jamie Duffy as Aladdin, Kirsten Keggie as Jasmine and Michael Davies as the Genie of the Lamp.

As with all BTC productions, Aladdin is cast to a tee with each member portraying their retrospective roles with exactly the right amount of pizazz suitable for a modern day pantomime. However, it is youngster Freya Reid as evil sidekick SoGood that truly steals the show. At 9 years old, Reid is a pint-sized star who delivers dialogue with a sassy wickedness that has the audience eating out the palm of her hand. Reid’s chemistry with her evil counterpart SoFar (played superbly by Paul Calder) was a joy to watch, proving exactly what panto villainy should be about.

Of course, no panto is complete without a Dame – a role that is filled to perfection by panto regular, George Mackie. No stranger to the ‘Dame Scene’, Mackie knows exactly how to work a crowd as Widow Twanky, strutting a pair of heels more confidently than most women!

Occasionally, even in the best ‘amdram’ productions, company movement can take a back seat but BTC Choreographer Debbie Spurgeon skilfully defies that logic by incorporating a group of young dancers who truly do put the ‘P’ in ‘Panto’! Spurgeon’s Dancers add an extra dimension to musical numbers with particular highlights including tap number We’re in the Money and Dancing in the Street. As an established ballet professional, Spurgeon’s balletic routine in ‘I See The Light’ was beautifully delivered by soloist Clara Jones who gave a committed and elegant performance. Most impressively, Spurgeon must be commended for utilising the entire cast in full company movement, with not one individual looking awry or out of place throughout the course of the narrative.

What was most appealing about BTC’s Aladdin was the utilisation of signature set pieces against a full 7 metre LED screen. An idea that was superbly executed in adding extra vibrancy to the production value; allowing for the smoothest and most atmospheric of scene transitions. Gone are the days of clunky sets and insipid pull-along tabs…BTC aesthetically prove why.

All in all, Balerno Theatre Company do it again as they deliver a refreshing adaption of a traditional classic which has justifiably sold out! The 2017 production arguably gives the most established of ‘panto pro’s’ a run for their money, incorporating everything you could hope for this festive season…including an alternative take on the ‘12 Days of Christmas’. No spoilers, of course, but grab those cagoules…HE’S BEHIND YOU!

Aladdin runs until Saturday 9th December 2017 at the Churchill Theatre, Edinburgh.