JOYCE MCMILLAN on THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF ALADDIN AND THE MAGIC LAMP at Cumbernauld Theatre, for The Scotsman 13.12.14.
4 stars ****
IN THE PAST, he’s directed the big pantomime at the King’s in Glasgow, and major mainstage productions at the Royal Lyceum; so it’s perhaps not surprising that Tony Cownie, acting artistic director at Cumbernauld, makes an impressive job of this year’s Christmas show, despite a shoestring budget, and a cast of only five performers. Co-written by Ed Robson with Roderick Stewart, Cumbernauld’s version of the Aladdin story frames it not as a pantomime – although it retains many panto elements – but as one of the tales of 1001 Nights; it ends with a touch of downbeat reflection on mortality and old age that slightly dampens the festive mood, but is richly earned by Cownie’s all-star cast, led by Steven McNicoll as the old storyteller who turns out once to have been Aladdin.
All the key elements of the story are in place, though, as McNicoll – also playing the villain Abanazar – joins James Anthony Pearson, Jayd Johnson, Nicky Elliott and the lovely Angela Darcy in leading us through the tale of how a poor boy from Peking found fame, fortune and love. And what’s most striking about this Aladdin is the brilliant intensity of the relationship it builds with the children in the audience; as they join the cast in a kind of passionate popular rebellion against the schemes of the wicked Grand Vizier, Abanazar, and his plan to steal Princess Jasmine for himself against all the laws of love, and of the fairytale happy endings that Christmas audiences not only expect but demand – in this case, at the very pitch of their lungs.