JOYCE MCMILLAN on ALADDIN AND THE MAGICAL LAMP at Cumbernauld Theatre, for The Scotsman 17.12.08
3 stars ***
SAY WHAT you like about Ed Robson, the current director of Cumbernauld Theatre; he’s not a man who does anything by halves. Last month, it was a memorable production of Sarah Kane’s searing suicide text 4:48 Psychosis. This month, it’s Aladdin for the kids; but predictably, it’s not quite Aladdin as we know it. This time around, the familiar story is set in a complex framework, with an old master and his four young friends telling the tale to fend off the rage of a bored king. And there’s a memorable twist in the final moments, when an audience of ready-to-go schoolchildren are invited to give their attention to a five-minute philosophical coda on the nature of time and mortality, complete with a looming video image of giant, God-like genie who strangely resembles David Hayman.
The good news is that this Aladdin represents a far better effort than last year’s narratively tortured Jack And The Beanstalk; the bad news is that Robson still hasn’t quite found the right panto balance between straightforward children’s storytelling and old-fashioned showbiz razzmatazz. The audience participation is excellent, among the finest around this year; yet most of the verbal jokes in the slightly laboured script die an embarrassing death, as Susan Coyle struggles to make a convincing comedy star of her window-cleaning Widow Twankey. And not all of the visual effects are as ingenious as they think they are, although I never expect to see a better shoestring realisation of Aladdin’s treasure cave. In Steven Rae and Imogen Toner, though, as Aladdin and Yasmin, Robson has found a strong, convincing leading couple, who can just about carry the show on their strong shoulders; and for the rest – well, it’s a bumpy road, but we reach panto heaven in the end.