Writer: Lizzie Hopley
Music: Jack Merivale
Director: Charlotte Conquest
Reviewer: Tom Finch
Creation Theatre, one of Oxford’s best known theatre companies, are back with their ever popular Christmas shows and this year they transport us to the dark, poverty stricken slums of Peking. A rousing opening number blasts our senses and we are off on a journey of excitement and adventure.
Aladdin, “a bad, mad lad” is being a nuisance in town and after the sudden death of his father finds himself kicked out of his home by his mother. He meets a princess and a sorcerer, gets two “Jinnees” and goes on to save the day while learning a few important lessons along the way. It’s good, solid family fun.
The cast, without exception are all talented and they work hard playing a range of characters and performing every rôle with commitment and honesty. James Yeoburn is an engaging and enjoyable Aladdin with the right balance of good for nothing layabout and leading man charm. Isla Carter sparkles as the strong willed princess giving her rôle depth, warmth and grace. Nicholas Osmond is hilarious as both a solemn, deadpan, French speaking Jinee &the germophobic Sultan.
Charlotte Conquest’s direction is interesting and makes very good use of the space. The Sorcerer (played with just the right amount of camp meanness by Timothy Allsop) arriving into Peking Docks is staged with a real flair that is indicative of the high quality of staging throughout.
The production though, unfortunately, is not without problems. The script while truer to the original story than the panto and Disney versions we have come to know is sprinkled with jokes which don’t land well and fall flat. This mixed with the very slow pacing of the entire production made the evening feel much longer than it needed to. Act two in particular almost grinds to a halt on several occasions just as you want the action to pick up. The script also overeggs the melodramatic and within a few minutes Aladdin’s father is dead and his mother is breaking down on stage, dramatically correct yes, but at this stage of the story it’s hard to care too much about characters we don’t know well.
The show is also littered with songs most of which are instantly forgettable and which go on for that one verse too long. Also, some of the actors struggle to sing above the volume of the backing track.
Neil Irish’s designs are a joy to look at. The simple, multipurpose set is functional and works well. The costumes are a joy and special mention must be made to The Sorcerer’s gown which is full of surprises.
There is also an interesting circus element to this show. Anna O’Loughlin who plays the perky, effervescent Ring Jinnee spends most of the show hanging from silk sheets or a hoop above the heads of the actors. Her obvious skill is great fun to watch and although maybe the circus elements outstay their welcome on a couple of occasions the show is made better for her being there.
Overall this production is well worth a visit and Creation Theatre need the continued support of their audiences (as was made very clear in the long, awkward speech made after the curtain call). It’s a good, solid festive family show although it never quite reaches the dizzying highs that make it a must see.