The Met in Bury saw the return of the Big Tiny production company, this time presenting their adaptation of Aladdin, written by Ben Richards (credits include: Cargo, which itself was adapted into a film) and is the panto-directorial debut of Will Cousins.
Unlike the Oscar-award-winning Disney film from 1992, Big Tiny’s Aladdin takes inspiration directly from the original story, written by Antoine Galland, with the show set in China instead of the Middle East.
The pantomime is a witty and cleverly written play that goes a mile a minute without feeling like you can’t catch your breath.
The show falls short in the second act, with the pacing feeling like they were trying to pad out the runtime.
Standouts Include Neil Jennings as the Panto Dame
Similar to the Disney musical, we see the kind-hearted Aladdin (Sahar Mizrahi) meet and fall in love with Princess Jasmine (Thea Day) and be manipulated by the villainous Abanazar into collecting a mysterious lamp, which he accidentally unleashes a powerful Genie (Aimee Louise Bevan) from.
With only seven cast members, the show had to rely on the natural charisma of its players, which it did with much success.
Particular standouts included Daniel Craig-Salmon who captivated the children as Aladdin’s comical brother, Wishee Washee; Leni Murphy as the Empress who tries to prevent Aladdin from marrying Jasmine; and Neil Jennings as our panto dame Widow Twankey, who was a comical delight at every point of the play.
The drawback to the introduction of these new characters was that Aimee’s charming Genie felt underutilised in the panto, having her show up in the second act to grant wishes without giving her much space to show off her version of the iconic character, also played by late, great Robin Williams in the Disney film.
A Witty and Accessible Production
Aladdin is great on a technical level. Choreographer Jason Tinney worked around the limits of the small set and included backup dancers in the numbers to help the show feel grander. Sound Design from Sam Lord was also exceptional, with the music used being loud enough to keep you invested in the show without feeling overwhelmed.
Ben Richards wrote a clever panto of Aladdin, filling the script with classic British dry humour, charm and northern references which made the show feel accessible. The writing also wisely allowed for improvisational moments including interactions with the audience – I literally got hit in the eye with a blast from a water gun!
While I began to feel the length of the show in the second act, the play was still filled with strong witty humour and solid emotional beats that kept me and the audience interested.
The Occasional Mistake Was One of Aladdin’s Strengths
Opening night is always likely to involve a hiccup or two, and Aladdin was no exception. But instead of falling victim to the accidental trick going awry or a slight character break, the show felt enriched by them.
The cast would laugh at their missteps and we would laugh along with them, and Neil Jenning’s fantastic performance as Widow Twankey could convince you any slip-up was on purpose.
What was detrimental to the panto was actually how well the cast’s voices were able to carry to the rest of the audience.
While most of the stars did a great job, especially Thea as Jasmine, Shahar and Ian Hayles as Abanazar particularly struggled to carry their voice to the back of the room, to the point that I saw others in the audience noticing – and I was only in the second row.
Hopefully, this was a product of their opening night, as the cast and crew really highlighted the potential of this pantomime and its strong writing, which will keep children and adults entertained for an evening.
Aladdin is at The Met in Bury until Tuesday 26 December 2023. Tickets can be booked here.