Following the sell-out success of 2014’s Sleeping Beauty, the team at London Road’s Emporium Theatre return, reuniting to bring a show brimming with enthusiasm, word play and – most of all – fun, with a little help from an enchanted lamp.
Aladdin begins on a beach, an Australian sock puppet goading our modest protagonist into sharing his animated autobiography. Though it’s not immediately recogniseable as the ancient tale we all love, I believe a centuries-old story sometimes needs a little tweaking to really grasp the attention of its audience. In the two hours that follow, this is something that Emporium Theatre’s Aladdin carries off remarkably well, delivering a charmingly unusual take on the pantomime classic.
Winding wondrous acrobatics, choreography and cleverly written songs around its story – the extraordinary journey of a bazaar trader on his quest for fortune, respect and the heart of the girl of his dreams – Aladdin explores the chaotic reality of finding a balance between the titular character’s heritage and hopes, as he struggles through battles between the man he is and the man he aspires to be.
Of course, it’s not a story without a few obstacles, and castles of Arabian sand have a tendency to crumble. Not everyone wishes for Aladdin’s fortune, our villain taking form in carpet dealer Electa (the brilliant Pip Henderson) and her loyal sidekick Rikesh. Akin to Jafar and Iago, the duo is full of dastardly antagonistic plans to thwart the dreams of Aladdin. They say the best songs are often saved for the villain, and Emporium’s Aladdin is certainly no exception – stealing the show with the thunderous “Better in my Hands/Power” (though Faye Ellen and Tyler Kennington’s Jasmine and Aladdin put up a strong fight during their duet, If Only She Could See Me/Reprise). Rikesh also delivers a fantastic slapstick skit mid-way through the performance, as well as a sweet surprise for lucky members of the audience.
As regular pantomime goers know, audience engagement is key, yet there can be something a little too predictable about the standard shout-outs. While “He’s behind you!” and “Oh no he isn’t” (along with plenty of booing for the bad guys) feature, it’s not overwhelming, and you can tell the writers have gone above and beyond to deliver a fresher take on the traditional panto atmosphere, culminating in a lively finale that has all the audience on their feet!
It’s been a long time since this writer happened upon a pantomime, and what a re-introduction Emporium Theatre’s Aladdin presents. With risqué double-entendre, brilliantly written leads and unbeatable audience participation, James Weisz and his team have certainly created a pantomime worthy of the Christmas season in their laugh-a-minute take on this timeless tale.
Aladdin is at Brighton’s Emporium until 9 Jan at 7pm, plus 2pm matinees on Saturdays (excl 25 Dec, 1st & 4th Jan).