Dec 4 2014 | By More

✭✭✭✭✩    Flashes of brilliance

King’s Theatre: Sun 29 Nov 2014 – Sun 18 Jan 2015

Shiny, snappy and energetic, Aladdin at the King’s sacrifices some of the traditional interaction of a panto, but remains a highly satisfying production.

The well established trio of Allan Stewart, Andy Gray and Grant Stott are front and centre as always, but Aladdin does benefit from a strong, simple and easily recognised central plot, which is given sufficient respect here in a noticeably fast-paced production.

Abanazar (Grant Stott) Widow Twankey (Allan Stewart) and Wishee Washee (Andy Gray). Photo: Douglas Robertson

Grant Stott, Allan Stewart and Andy Gray. Photo: Douglas Robertson

Director Ed Curtis’s determination to get on with things is shown by the opening scene, which is the traditional prologue detailing the evil plans of Abanazar (Stott). The immediate appearance of “the evil cobra”, the first of several impressive effects in the show, means we really hit the ground running.

Stott continues to grow as a performer who can be relied upon to chip in with a couple of effective songs. The rapport between the three regular principals remains obvious, with just about the right amount of in-jokes, ad-libs and moments where things (apparently) go wrong.

The downside to this could be an element of cosiness and coasting, but that never really happens here. From the moment Stewart’s Widow Twankey appears on the stage, giving it laldy in a version of Shout, he gives a committed, endearing performance.

Gray, meanwhile, gives full rein to his comic talents as Wishee Washee, and his beatific smile after delivering a line that goes way beyond cheesy shows that he knows exactly what he can – and cannot – get away with.

The highlight of the three regulars’ routines is probably a tongue-twister sequence, which makes clever use of the stage, with Stewart constantly clomping backwards and forwards from Gray on one side to Stott on the other, drawing out the anticipation in what is already an exquisitely-timed routine.

snappy local references

The level of double entendre is perhaps lower than usual, with many of the gags being pleasingly silly rather than verging on blue. It is also noticeable that there is far less reliance on dated ‘oriental’ stereotypes than would once have been the case. Instead, Stewart and Michael Harrison’s script includes some snappy local references and a few topical jokes, at least one of which has some real bite.

Aladdin (Greg Barrowman) with babes. Photo Douglas Robertson

Aladdin (Greg Barrowman) with babes. Photo Douglas Robertson

Greg Barrowman (Aladdin) shows he has put the time understudying his cousin John to good use, and comes across as a cheekily likeable performer. If, as seems likely, the traditional Principal Boy has disappeared from mainstream panto, at least the fresh-faced, gallus energy he supplies is an acceptable substitute.

Miriam Elwell-Sutton’s Princess Jasmine seems oddly low-key, but her duets with Barrowman are pleasing enough and they never outstay their welcome, as the romantic interludes in pantomimes are wont to do. Lisa Lynch’s Slave of The Ring is an interesting performance, opting for a naturalistic acting style that seems a long way from the more mannered ‘magical’ performance that might be expected, but that works surprisingly well.

James Paterson’s Emperor, with his huge, booming voice, is the exact opposite, but has great presence and makes the most of his limited time onstage, particularly in the final chaotic comedy routine.

The dance ensemble seems oddly small, particularly when not boosted by the excellent young performers from the Edinburgh Dance Academy, but they are always well drilled and lively, with Stillie Dee’s choreography being consistently good.

Abanazar (Grant Stott) with dancers. Photo: Douglas Robertson

Abanazar (Grant Stott) with dancers. Photo: Douglas Robertson

The technical side of the performance is strong, with plenty of bangs, flashes, costume changes, special effects and a well-staged swordfight. The overall effect is extremely slick and there really is hardly a dull moment.

What is missing is a high degree of audience participation. After the welcome return of the songsheet last year, there is nothing like that here, and even the direct interaction with the audience at which Stewart excels is kept to a bare minimum. This is a disappointment, but is more than made up for by the level of energy and fun kept up throughout, which means that the time fairly flies by.

Running time 2 hours including interval
King’s Theatre, 2 Leven Street EH3 9LQ
Saturday 29 November 2014 – Sunday 18 January 2015
Tue-Sat: 2pm, 7pm; Sun: 1pm, 5pm. Times vary Christmas/New Year.
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