“Perfectly poised performance with a puff of pantomime”
Aladdin is a story you can’t mess with. A well-loved and well-worn tale of love and magic for generation upon generation, there is little room for interpretation or creative licence in its delivery. Get it wrong and your audience will soon tell you.
This Birmingham Royal Ballet performance of Aladdin delivers just enough Disney magic to keep young audiences enthralled without being too sickly sweet for more mature theatre goers. The charm-like choreography allows this simple story to be told step by step to the rhythm and tune of a musical score more befitting of a movie than the stage. Comfortable and familiar to the eye, the costumes and stage set feel not dissimilar to sitting down in front of the 1992 film classic.
In a ballet that doesn’t take itself too seriously, Mathias Dingman gives the audience an Aladdin with fresh-faced cheek and puppy-like energy. As a pair, Jonathan Payn as The Sultan and Marion Tait as Aladdin’s mother bring a gentle pantomime humour to the stage, endearing themselves to the crowd with comic mime and a dose of slapstick antics. It would not have been at all surprising for this wordless storytelling wonder to be abruptly punctuated with a joshing ‘he’s behind you!’
Under the skin of its childlike simplicity, David Bintley’s sprightly choreography and Sue Blane’s exotic costume design conspire harmoniously to tell the story of the characters’ evolving relationships. Iain Mackay’s convincingly villainous Mahgrib stalks the stage with commanding physical presence, magnified by a spellbinding and wizardly costume, towering over the skittish and plainly dressed Aladdin in act one. While Dingman’s stage presence as Aladdin grows across the three acts from playful pup to proud fairytale hero, Momoko Hirata’s Princess Badr-al-Budur maintains a glittering grace and poise befitting of a princess from start to finish.
The Djinn of the Lamp blows in to the set in a puff of smoke, the special effects convincing enough for the sharp-eyed amongst the audience to suspend disbelief. Dick Bird’s set team clearly had a great deal of fun with this show, delivering a cultural mash up of alluring Middle Eastern souks and bath houses, glowing Arabian desert scenes, austere Chinese temples and cluttered back-street laundry scenes. The show set delivers a joyous and colourful journey that is true to the cultural ambiguity of the original fairytale.
In a traditional ballet it would be the wedding scene that is the scintillating pinnacle. In Aladdin, while the wedding scenes do not disappoint, it is the cave of riches that is the true gem. Glorious hanging stalactites punctuate the darkness, changing in colour to match the mood of the onyx and pearls, gold and silver, sapphires, emeralds, rubies and diamonds as they captivate Aladdin with their exuberant dance. It is here in the cave where storytelling gives way to pure dance, bringing each member of the company into a skilful and sparkling medley.
Elsewhere in the performance, showcasing fancy footwork takes a backseat to more simply choreographed storytelling, which is fitting for a ballet telling an innocent tale for which children are sure to be the main audience.
While traditional ballet lovers may find the choreography in this performance too elementary for their tastes, Aladdin offers a perfect introduction to ballet for a first-time audience or those who love a bit of pantomime fun.