Let me get this out of the way. Any reproduction of Aladdin will be problematic. People far more qualified than I have written about this issue – google it. It has epitomised the term “cultural appropriation” since its conception, being written by a Frenchman who has heard the story from a Syrian storyteller. Later, Disney was inspired by this story and loosely based their popular 1992 animated movie on it.
Albert Halls’ Christmas Panto Aladdin created their own adaption of this story by combining the original French story with the beloved Disney movie. One main difference between this production and the mainstream story is its setting: the original story was set in unknown places in China and Northwest Africa, so the panto is set in “Peking”, a pseudo Chinese-inspired fairy-tale land.
Having a mainly white cast playing conically non-white characters and turning a real, complex country with history and culture into an absurd fantasyland is very problematic. However, I argue that this panto is still enjoyable and worthy of our attention because of the joy it brings to its audience, even though it is important to be aware of the controversies surrounding its source material and not ignore it.
The acting in Aladdin was faultless. The cast had great and natural chemistry, and it was clear that they all liked being on stage with each other. They all embraced their characters and never failed to be interesting to watch.
Ray Quinn (who was runner-up on The X Factor when Leona Lewis won) played the titular character. He was the obvious the star of the show. He is a talented singer and dancer, and he performed his role of the clever hero to perfection. He possessed a natural charm that grabbed the attention of the entire audience. He also had great interplay with his supporting dancers.
The beautiful Nadia Kramer embodied the role of the fairy-tale princess, and all her movements were elegant and graceful. Her beautiful voice blended delightfully with Quinn’s in their duets, and their chemistry made the audience instantly root for them to be together.
The lighting was colourful and conveyed the correct happy, cheerful atmosphere for the panto. The speakers had the correct volume for the background music to be heard throughout the large theatre hall, without drawing out the amazing vocal performances, and sound effects were cleverly used to support the plot.
The cast mostly wore Chinese-inspired costumes appropriated for a western audience, with a few exceptions. All police in the show wore British police uniforms, and during some scenes, everyone on stage wore costumes from the 1992 Disney movie. Graham Edgington, who played the Emperor of China, took this even further by wearing Chinese inspired robes with a large turban that resembled the headwear of the ruler of Agrabah. The set design was similarly confused. Even though most of the set were inspired by historical Chinese buildings, one background showcased middle-eastern style pots, vases and shisha pipes.
Even though the producers of Aladdin tried to be distinctive by creating their own spin on a well-known story, they were afraid of alienating their audience, so they infused the panto with references to the Disney movie which resulted in a confused set design. However, the faults of this production were balanced out by the great acting from dedicated and talented performers.
Aladdin runs at Bolton’s Albert Halls from 30 November to 31 December.