Aladdin

Date 2nd February 2018
Society New Mills Amateur Operatic & Dramatic Society
Venue New Mills Arts Theatre
Type of Production Pantomime
Director Sean Stennings
Musical Director Tim Walker
Choreographer Cathryn Yates

Report

Author: Kevin Proctor

This production was my first visit to a New Mills pantomime, a patriotic art form which I adore! Many people shun panto as degrading to the arts but not only is pantomime keeping theatre alive in our country, balancing the ingredients of a modern panto is a fine art and performing in them is no mean feat either! Long may panto thrive in our community though I have no reason to assume it won’t, thankfully!

I’ve always found Aladdin to be a slightly odd one, the story originates from one of the Arabian Nights tales.  However, when first produced as a pantomime in London during the late 1700’s the setting had been altered to China, something which stuck and remains so for most panto versions today, including this rendering.

The show moved along at a fine pace and the momentum was never lost. We were treated to a good mix of songs from recent chart toppers to showtunes and Disney anthems. Choosing songs for the principals to sing is not an easy undertaking but it requires someone from the production team if not the performers themselves to speak up if a song they’re being asked to deliver doesn’t complement them for whatever reason. The joy of panto is the flexibility to change things such as this. Panto offers the luxury to showcase the cast to their best ability, if a song is out of their range or doesn’t suit their style then there is no reason why that song should remain in the score.

This Alan P Frayn script contained all the ingredients of a solid, old hat pantomime although elements of the text did feel like the cobwebs needed dusting off it a bit, a Frayn panto is always a safe, if slightly tame, option.    

We were treated to some sturdy choreography with certain movers standing out as very auspicious dancers indeed, some movement was incredibly well drilled and performed with vigour whilst other numbers (usually involving the full cast) were less so, of course it’s a pleasure to choreograph sequences with the skilled dancers and I’m sure it’s much more fun to do so but it’s to the best interest of the production as a whole to spend equal time with everyone, including principals and chorus members to ensure they’re just as tidy.

The scenery was a virtuous exhibition with a fine selection of cloths offering a sufficient presentation and appeal for the production, likewise ringing true for the colourful array of costumes too.

Jake Ridgway played the handsome principal rogue as a too-cool-for-school Aladdin with copious swagger and more street cred than you could shake a lamp at though at times this interpretation did appear to compensate energy levels but, saying that, I’m more thankful for a character choice which wasn’t the norm, creating a more original and fresh portrayal to what many may be used to.

Mhairi Jenning’s Princess Mandarin was certainly sweet enough with a fine singing voice, she suited some of the songs she was given better than others, correcting her posture would have conveyed a sturdier portrayal but overall, we got a worthy performance from Mhairi.

We were treated to Darren Cooper’s portrayal as Widow Twankey, I appreciate that actors who play Dames have their own character which makes an appearance each year, one which works for them and Darren certainly did work with his terrific energy, running gags and an excellent rapport with the audience, I usually prefer a less feminine Dame as I find them more comical but I can’t deny I was regularly chuckling along to his act.   

Connor Wyse was every inch the local fool as Wishee Washee, full of gusto and zest, as is often the case with older scripts, the village clown character often lacks comic material – some deliberately leave gags out for the individual comic to add their own material whereas some of the older scripts just aren’t funny enough, it’s becoming all too common nowadays with old scripts. Angela Hulme had an impressive presence as the Genie of the Lamp, completely lighting up the stage and engaged our attention throughout.   

The Spirit of the Ring was charmingly played by Lisa Quin offering everything she needed to with every little girl in awe of her, an admirable delivery of the fairy equivalent with clear diction and good physicality.

The cast offered a wide range of ages and experience giving a true community experience. I can see how this annual endeavour is supported so royally by the New Mills area, everyone relished the tomfoolery and ambiance of a heart warming and enchanting pantomime and will no doubt continue to support the excellent work that’s put in to producing them! Congratulations everyone.    

As a side note - I must further congratulate the cast who were evidently being distracted by a screaming baby in the audience for the majority of act I, kudos for managing to plough on, the audience were routing for the cast to not let it put them off too much but at times this was near on impossible, why the Mother didn’t take the shrieking baby out of the auditorium sooner or why she wasn’t asked to leave earlier by the theatre staff is quite shameful to the other audience members and to the production itself.