Aladdin – Review – Hull New Theatre
By Karl Hornsey, December 2019
There’s something reaffirming that in this day and age the good old pantomime remains a British institution loved and treasured by all ages and, judging by the rapturous reception for Aladdin at Hull New Theatre, there’s plenty of life in the old dog yet.
While it’s fair to say the vast majority of the kids in the audience might be a little confused by this version of Aladdin, compared, for example, to the hit film of this year starring Will Smith, as with everything in pantoland it’s simply a case of sit back and enjoy the ride and the ensuing pandemonium that unfolds on stage.
“Plenty of festive fun”
This version of the famous Arabian Nights tale had everything you’d want and expect from a modern panto, including songs from the likes of Ed Sheeran, a lengthy sketch that tested the tongue-twisting skills of three of the cast, young members of the audience popping up on stage at the end, and a bit of blue. In this case, actually, a bit of Blue, in the shape of former boy band singer-turned-DJ and actor Simon Webbe, who took the role of the eponymous street urchin hero.
Throw in lashings of outrageous costumes, props that may or may not quite work as they should, and a 20-odd-foot genie released from the confines of the famous old lamp, and the recipe is written for plenty of festive fun for all the family.
Webbe’s singing voice is certainly still a force to reckoned with and one of the highlights of the show is a remarkable magic carpet ride that takes him high above the audience. On his way to Egypt, of course, via the first few rows of the theatre.
Robin Askwith, familiar to gentlemen of a certain age from his films of the 1970s, excels as the baddie Abanazar, bringing forth catcalls, boos, hisses and screams at his every turn, as he tries to trick his way into stealing the lamp, and with it the hand of Aladdin’s beloved Princess Jasmine (played with wide-eyed innocence by Charlotte Barnes) into the bargain.
Jake Canuso (he of Benidorm fame) is shoehorned into the story as The Spirit of the Dance, while Darren Machin and Keith Higham have great fun playing Widow Twankey and Emperor Ming respectively, but the star of the show for me was the wonderful Neil Hurst, who may not be a household name, but certainly deserves to be.
I saw Hurst last year when he stepped into the sizeable shoes of Mark Benton in the stage version of Early Doors and his comic pedigree has seen him support such luminaries as Bruce Forsyth, Bob Monkhouse and Cannon and Ball – from whom he no doubt picked up many of the tricks of the panto trade that saw him shine. Starring as Aladdin’s brother Wishee Washee, he seemed to get most of the best lines, as well as driving the story (such as it is) forward and interacting fantastically with the kids in the audience.
It’ll be no mean feat for the cast and crew to maintain this standard over so many shows, but Aladdin is on at Hull New Theatre until the 29th December and is well worth a watch, keeping the Christmas tradition well and truly alive and kicking.