Belfast Telegraph

Aladdin serves up panto gold at Grand Opera House

Energetic cast take audience on a colourful, charming and magical ride

By Simon Fallaha

A curtain cast in glitter rested upon the eyes of a buzzing, chattering, excitable audience of all ages as John "May McFettridge" Linehan's 25th appearance in the Grand Opera House Christmas pantomime began.

Accompanied by the likes of former Steps singer Faye Tozer, world renowned ventriloquist Jimmy Tamley and local actress Jayne "Sweeney Todd" Wisener, it promised a colourful cascade of gaudy theatricality for the whole family.

On that count, it didn't disappoint.

Of course, it was a nonsensical, anachronistic stew. How could it not have been? But it was a rather enjoyable one. It opened on a perfect note, with self-titled "chosen one" Aladdin, played by Aaron Hayes Rodgers, leading a superbly choreographed take on Pharrell Williams' "Happy".

Energetic, lively, vibrant and vivid, it was the ideal door opener for McFettridge to pull out all the stops on this occasion - his occasion.

Cheap and local situational humour of the verbal and physical kind were tossed into a casserole of sometimes charming and sometimes catastrophic charades, played to the hilt by McFettridge and her, or his, animatedly affable ensemble.

Predominantly doused in fluorescent light, and surrounded by commendably detailed set design, the cast and chorus packed in as much lightly lateral and all-too-obviously literal banter that the framework of the classic Aladdin story would allow, some of it raising more laughs than others.

This version of Aladdin was ultimately at its best when its stars were given the freedom to show off their not inconsiderable skills, which was relatively frequently.

Jimmy Tamley and his puppets were a hoot, while as enchantress Scheherazade, Faye Tozer kept you on your toes, alternately pleasing with her engaging expressions and powerful pipes.

On stage, Tozer was a perfect counterpoint to Earl Carpenter's evil Abanazar.

Like Ralph Fiennes or Alan Rickman with a clownish bent, Carpenter was intimidating yet inept, a true pantomime villain that the children could really enjoy booing or hissing at.

And while they both somewhat overshadowed the antics of Aaron Hayes Rodgers' title character and Jayne Wisener's Princess Jasmine, Hayes Rodgers' schoolboyish enthusiasm and Wisener's sweetly mellow perkiness were strong enough to win the audience over.

Amidst all the comedy and choreography, there was also room for two more marvellous technical visuals - the sight of Aladdin "soaring into the air" on a magic carpet, and an animatronic King Kong-esque figure that led to a highly amusing sketch involving apes and bananas. It was a worthy celebration for May McFettridge, and a pleasing reminder that all that's glitter can be some kind of gold in the right company and with the right personnel.

Three stars

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