Theatre reviews: Aladdin | Castle Fallon
Aladdin, Edinburgh Playhouse ****
Castle Fallon, Oran Mor, Glasgow **
The Disney musical version of Aladdin must be one of the strangest hybrids ever to hit the British touring circuit. Based on the 1992 Disney film, inevitably associated in the public mind with the dozens of pantomime versions that appear in the UK every festive season, and yet turned out like a full-scale Broadway musical, complete with almost a dozen spectacular songs never included in the film, it could well have ended up with the worst of all three possible worlds.
In fact, though, Casey Nicolaw’s production avoids all those pitfalls, to emerge as a hugely spectacular and generous-spirited show that offers some sparkling and joyful pre-Christmas entertainment to Edinburgh audiences this month. It’s true that this version of the tale lacks some much-loved aspects of Aladdin the pantomime; there’s no Widow Twanky with her laundry, and no famous scene – “new lamps for old” – where the wicked villain tricks Princess Jasmine into giving away the magic lamp.
What it has, though, is a dazzling playlist of more than 15 songs, including half-a-dozen production numbers so cheerfully spectacular that they leave the audience breathless; and a true superstar in leading West End singer and actor Yeukayi Ushe, who plays the Genie of the Lamp in show-stoppingly charismatic style. Gavin Adams is a sweet and touching Aladdin, and Desmonda Cashabel a feisty Jasmine; Nicolaw’s choreography is outstanding, as is the show’s terrific 14-strong dance team. And if it’s slightly strange to hear this exhilarating British and international company deliver the whole story in the accents of New York and Los Angeles – well, it’s Disney’s version of the tale, after all; and I guess they can tell it in any accent they like.
Since it first opened in 2011, this musical version of Aladdin has in fact been the subject of a few heated rows about who gets to own, voice and perform these traditional Middle Eastern tales; and these same questions about heritage – who owns it, who conserves it, and who is allowed to interpret it – also feature in this week’s Play, Pie And Pint show Castle Fallon, a debut play by Glasgow-based Northern Irish writer Peter Stewart.
The drama is set in a decaying National Trust property somewhere in Inverness-shire, where the ageing manageress Mona and her loyal sidekick Marie receive a visit from new National Trust man Gerard, a London lad of Irish and Asian descent who has recently left a lucrative job in banking. Castle Fallon, he says, is “haemorrhaging cash”, and should probably be closed down; but when Marie discovers some compromising images on his mobile phone, the two spot an opportunity to blackmail him into keeping the castle open.
So far, so promising; and Stewart certainly has a strong line in entertaining dialogue, full of eccentric minor detail. There’s something about the development of the play’s three characters, though, that is at best confusing, and at worst downright worrying. As guardians of a slice of Scottish history, Mona and Marie come across as a pair of dotty old bigots, not without guile, but also with randomly hostile attitudes to the Irish, the English, and all manner of foreigners; as well as – in Mona’s case – a deep and deranged need to worship at the feet of some kind of clan chief.
Actors JoJo Sutherland, Gowan Calder, and a persuasive Manjot Sumal as Gerard, do their collective best to extract both meaning and comedy from this increasingly strange scenario. In the end, though, it’s difficult to avoid the feeling that Stewart’s play tangles with subjects – including racism and xenophobia – that are currently too painful to be very funny, unless they are handled with a surer and more purposeful touch than Stewart and his director Laila Noble seem able to muster, this time round.
Aladdin is at the Edinburgh Playhouse until 18 November, and at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow, 6-30 November. Castle Fallon is at Oran Mor, Glasgow, until 11 November.