FringeReview UK 2015
Writer Doug Devaney offers us a gag-filled, panto style family show that offers us Aladdin with enough story to please traditionalists but a few new twists of his own.
Emporium have carved their own niche for fringe theatre in Brighton in recent years. But they also step out of that niche and offer us a bit of mainstream from time to time. Here, with Aladdin, we have an unashamed mix of panto, Carry On, family fringe and a west end musical.
The show doesn’t feel commercial yet it has class – from costumes to a finely polished comedy script that never strays too far into pandering to the social media-addicted television generation. A good old story forms the backbone of this piece, laced throughout with comedy and a strong musical score..
This is by no means a perfect show but it is an excellent one. And it stands out for its unique blend of reliable traditional style with plenty of inventive use of the space and courage to max out on a limited budget. This is the pure essence of high quality, professional fringe theatre. What Emporium do so well is to squeeze every ounce of that tight budget into their productions, and director James Weisz draws out the very best this uniformly talented cast has to offer. Add to that an impressive, evocative set and some wonderful costumes from designer, Gary Blair, that never falls into garish, televisual colours but, instead goes for a romanticised naturalism, and you have a big-feel show in a fairly small space that always makes that space feel big and ready for bright lights, show time. Emporium creates scale from smaller things and bigs them up authentically and effectively.
Yet there’s more: Some skilled physical set pieces, plenty of verbal knockabout, some gentle audience interaction and even a “he’s behind you!” and we have a full blown musical theatre show to delight 6-106 year olds. There’s plenty to see, a couple of stand out songs and a very together cast who plough through gag after gag, packed in by local writer Doug Devaney. Sometimes it feels as if there are too many gags and a few are lost along the way. Yet that was said of movies like Airplane and some of the work of Mel Brooks. See the show a second time and you’ll catch the hundred more gags you missed the first time around.
It all adds up to a synergistic show with interval with a few neat and engaging twists on a classic tale that is tinkered with but never spoiled and wrapped around a moral message or two that never feels preachy. Witty lyrics, clever and appropriately groaner one liners, pantomime routines and a romantic song all weave together to create a genuinely heart-warming show for Christmas and the winter season. In parts still a little rough round the edges the show can only continue to bed in. The audience were fully involved, called out in all the right places and there’s no needless audience humiliation. I brought two eleven year-olds with me and they both loved it, whopping with laughter and delight as they choked over their Haribou sweets, then chatting about it all the way home.
Aladdin and Princess Jasmin are suitably romantic, our genie a clever cabaret comedian with plenty of Frankie Howerd and a hint of Eric Morecambe thrown in.
Mike Goodenough is far more than his surname suggests – playing both the genie and the sultan with timing, poise and plenty of fun sideswipes. His genie is almost pantomime dame and his sultan is wonderfully over the top. Pip Henderson makes a perfect villain with great comic timing and a studied scowl, making her very boo-able. Tyler Kennington is both a humble and a pompous Aladdin going beyond the usual two dimensions of a panto hero. There’s terrific comedic and acrobatic support from Rory Maguire as sidekick Rik and Fay Ellen is a well realised and suitably intense as well as occasionally sharp Jasmine. A hugely committed and often funny supporting chorus also adds to and enhances the proceedings.
So what we have here is an unmissable Christmas show in a city, once again light on panto offerings for the winter season. It’s enjoyable, ambitious, heart-warming, inventive, funny, and you’ll leave more than glad you went.