Oxford Playhouse - Aladdin
27th November 2015 to 10th January 2016.
Review from The Guardian.
A sweet-throwing, cutlass-waving delight
Last year’s Beauty and the Beast at the Oxford Playhouse was an occasionally surreal, intermittently avant garde, defiantly postmodern rave-up. This year, the city’s big pantomime has gone a tad more conventional, with an Aladdin that comes complete with a shiny-frocked Widow Twankey, a talking dog and a flying magic carpet.
Here we have a clean-cut mummy’s boy Aladdin (Adam Samuel-Bal) falling for feisty Princess Rose (Kiran Sonia Sawar, whose pronounced Scots inflection certainly adds to the feistiness) in the traditional Chinese setting. Vizier Abanazar (Paul Barnhill) is a thoroughly boo-able creation in glistening two-tone silkiness, while Wishee Washee (Nathan Bryon) has been converted into an upbeat rapping canine who immediately engages the kids in the audience.
Barnhill does a great job as Abanazer, as does Nigel Betts as Twankey, who gives it the Les Dawson-style pantomime dame treatment. Indeed, the cast as a whole sock over their story with tremendous enthusiasm and an infectious energy. There’s even time for a strangely impressive magic carpet moment which – though rudimentary compared with the CGI of the big screen – manages to be quietly enchanting with just a few cables and strategically aimed lights.
The carpet is likely to provide the big “ooh-look!” moment for the children – it certainly did for my five-year-old, despite seeing it for the second time in a week. Hence she also knew the best place to position herself to catch the sweets Widow Twankey hurls occasionally from the stage (anti-sugar parents might want to watch out). That, and the foam cutlass she got to wave around her head, ensured Aladdin delivered big time. No shortage of Christmas spirit here.
Review from the Newbury Weekly News.
Well and truly carpeted
All's not well in Ox-a-for under new writer-director
Aladdin, at the Oxford Playhouse, until January 10
For the first time in a decade, the Oxford Playhouse has a new writer-director of its annual pantomime. In Aladdin, Steve Marmion, the director of Soho Theatre, has created a contemporary story set in a fantasy city in China, Ox-a-for. The production has gained such positive plaudits from Oxford's local papers that expectations were high beforehand.
Marmion has used the same designer as Pegasus Theatre has for A Christmas Carol, the excellent Liz Cooke. She has furnished the show with sumptuous backcloths depicting historic buildings in city, a busy shopping street with jokey shop titles, and the city's famous spires fringed by green, wooded hills.
The costumes are also bright and breezy, a riotous shock of colour as befits a popular family production. Cooke provides the show with one moment of wonder when a magic carpet transports hero and heroine on their date over the heads of members of the audience.
The design is by far the best element. The two young leads are fine actors who have toured previously to Oxford. Adam Samuel-Bal, as the bit of a prat Aladdin, was excellent in Tamasha's Blood, while Kiran Sonia Sawar, who plays the feisty, independent Princess Rose, acted in the same company's My Name Is. There is no stage chemistry between them; the debate about Aladdin's behaviour overhangs any romance. Nigel Betts is granite-heavy Widow Twanky while Paul Barnhill's baddie Abanazer tries too hard to be villainous. Abanazer's Spirit of the Ring (Rochelle Rose) is under-used while the curious Pee King Duck (Jessica-Lee Hopkins) plays no real purpose in the drama.
Wishee Washee (Nathan Bryon) is a floppy-eared dog, encouraging the audience with his howling to be part of his gang. His character is the most successful in engaging with the young audience.
It is good that the cast is more diverse than is usually seen in a Playhouse pantomime. It is unfortunate that Marmion's script borders on the hectoring, especially with the final punchline where Widow Twankey threatens the audience that Santa will get it unless they laugh at a very obvious, unfunny joke. Ravishing, but no levity.
There are reviews from the Bicester Advertiser ("a modern take on the classic story... the most dazzling moment was the magic carpet ride... totally mesmerising"), Oxford Daily Info ("the stage was a riot of character, dance and song... enough contemporary references to please the grown ups"), The Oxford Times ("a hugely entertaining production... excellent show, a colourful and musical delight... the quality of the singing is one of the most outstanding features of the show" 5/5), The Stage ("a colourful but comforting Aladdin... few surprises")