Philip Pullman, of His Dark Materials fame, has got his mitts on an old story and reinvented it. Early casualties are the jokes - I mean the really awful jokes that make Aladdin a proper panto, which this, be warned, isn't. There are also key characters who have gone Awol. There's no Abanazar and (I can hardly believe I am reporting such sacrilege) no Widow Twankey. How anyone can contemplate staging a show of this name without a pigtailed Dame with two large colanders up her blouse is beyond me. It's Aladdin, Jim, but not as we know it.
Simon Reade with Aletta Collins (who also directs) has adapted Pullman's 1994 story, which in freeing itself from the rules of pantoland does produce something different. It restores the story's lush orientalism, shoving minarets, genies, toe-curl shoes and jewels on gold plates into an Arabian tale in which Peking is somewhat sidelined.
If the story has removed Dame Twankey, it introduces some new elements - such as the twitchy character who maps Aladdin's growth from street bum to married man. He's called Shaheed the Nervous Poet, a writer who types up the story as we go along, the running joke - albeit a feeble one - being that he cannot find a moment's peace in the ghetto. Perhaps this works in the book version, but seen live it's a device which holds up the action.
Danny Worters as Aladdin is a streetwise Essex lad - chipper but hesitant and definitely smitten with the Princess (Nicole Charles) on whom he has illegally clapped eyes. The curious thing is that all the bits you might think would dig deepest in the Pullman version - Aladdin's relationship with his mother, for example - are in fact rather superficially dealt with.
It is the action scenes that you recall. Aladdin's descent into the cave is a gripping affair, and Robert Gwilym makes a first-class evil Sorcerer. But since his excellent camping is not repaid with any hissing or booing, one wonders what exactly is the point. It seems only fair to add that my 12-year-old companion thoroughly enjoyed himself.
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