Aladdin, Panto Review, Waterfront Hall, Belfast, November 29th, 2022

By Conor O’Neill

Photography courtesy of Johnny Frazer

First panto of the year and the kids are excited. The adults maybe be there mainly as chaperons, well, that and to be picked on by the tower of a woman that is Widow Twankey (Neil Kerry) but everyone young and old has a great time. Expect loads of slap-stick humour for the little ‘uns to laugh at plus some gags, of which there are many, that are a tad too risqué to be understood by the youngsters.

And the theme for this year’s dose of festive fun? Well, it’s the time and tested classic that is Aladdin.

Flying carpets, magic lamp, a genie and a laundrette-come-takeaway? Yes, the plot comes from the imagination of Patrick J O’Reilly. The owner is of course the dame with the blue whale frame, Widow Twankey. Seeing a niche in the market, her ladyship is offering to ‘wash your smalls while you eat your chicken balls’ or ‘dry your bikini and munch your panini’. This is my first time seeing an O’Reilly panto but like his more serious work he approaches the genre with a sense of play and a wicked turn of phrase.

What’s a panto without a baddy? Well, it’d be like a world cup without the English singing ‘it’s coming home’. Enter Abanazar (Chris Mohan). The kids love it. Mohan brings threat from the start, nothing like welcoming a theatre full of kids with the opening line of ‘hello you pesky boys and girls!’ Many of the adults get into the action too and every time this mascara-laden, evil entity makes an appearance the 360 attendees in the Waterfront let their hate flow freely.

Simple plotline is this: Aladdin loves Jasmine, Jasmine wants freedom, Jasmine’s mother wants Jasmine to marry a man of status, Abanazar wants the secrets of the universe – or indeed the wonderful Bally-Lagan-Bogey – and Widow Twankey wants a man, ‘preferably from BT9 but definitely not Taughmonagh.’

The other characters are certainly far from bit parts: The Genie and Sergeant Stan-King (Rhodri Lewis) are needed to grant wishes and keep law and order with a distinctly ‘Allo ‘Allo comedic French accent and The Fairy of the Ring and The Empress (Vicky Allen) add magic and wisdom with the former, and pomp and acute snobbery with the latter.

Set changes are minimal, little is needed with such a strong cast and script, the music selection by Katie Richardson is on point with the kids, though to my old ears the only recognisable tune was a lyrically changed rendition Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill. Director Chris Robinson gets so many things about this production it’s hard to fault it.

Six actors, eight characters, a cracking plot and a ton of energy and intrigue. Cast members spring up from everywhere and the kids’s necks must be sore this morning twisting this way and that to follow the action

Will Aladdin win Jasmine’s heart, will Abanazar control the universe, will Twankey get a man – vom in mouth – well, to find out simply book tickets for you and all the family. A stonking night out.

For booking details visit http://www.waterfront.co.uk or simply phone the box office on 02890 334400

Aladdin runs up to and including December 31st, 2022

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