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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

ALADDIN (article first published : 2004-11-8)

I have been eagerly awaiting Emcee Production’s Aladdin to see how they were going to present it in the Royal Hotel’s Grillroom. These hallowed Euro-styled precincts have previously been devoted to the presentation of excellent food and wine, with the occasional harpist or pianist to add to the sophisticated ambience.

Hats off to the producers – it actually works! Probably not from the performers’ point of view as the stage backs directly onto the kitchen so backstage must be a little hectic but from the diner’s perspective, director Peter Court’s Bedouin tent styled set design blends in comfortably with the chandeliers and velvet drapes. The Grillroom’s own palm trees form part of the set which adds to the Arabian atmosphere but they do restrict the performers’ movement.

Fans of Anthony Stonier and Peter Court won’t be disappointed as these two adult panto stalwarts put in their usual consistent performances as the Genie and Widow Twankie.

While Patrick Hyland and Peter Court’s fun script is full of the usual clever up-to-the-minute gags, the production is not up to standard musically and Anthony is the only performer doing justice to the songs. I was much impressed by his controlled and powerful rendition of I Am What I Am.

Making their pantomime debuts are Rowan Bartlett, Julia Clarence and Marc Kay. Rowan is suitably rotund and daffy as Bubbles while Julia adds naive charm as Princess Jasmin and Marc is an engaging and good-looking Aladdin.

The surprise of the show was Clare Mortimer. This award-winning actress has mainly appeared in drama productions and it was interesting to see her slip into the musical theatre scene – not to mention the over-the-top pantomime genre – as if to the manner born. What she lacked in singing technique (and I am sure that this simply requires a little training), she made up for with a robust and pithy interpretation of the sex-starved Sultana.

While it is billed as an adult pantomime, this production is nowhere near as risqué and downright suggestive as its predecessors from the Emcee Production stable. If the show stays as it is, I would dare to suggest it is suitable for ages 12 upwards.

Kit Reading’s costume designs are an absolute delight – making good use of the wealth of glorious fabric available in a city that caters for a large Indian population. One of the joys of pantomime is that the sky’s the limit and the more humorous the outfits, the better. Kit rose to the occasion and I hope that we will see more of his creations. I loved the “leopard skin” suitcases and the outfits for a whacky Swan Lake send-up – and a note of congratulation here to Peter Court and Rowan Bartlett for this item. We also saw that Peter is still capable of an impressive high kick!

Tickets R150 include the show and a three-course meal. Compared to the dishes served in the Royal Hotel’s former supper theatre venue, Backstage, the meal was a little disappointing and lacked the usual Royal standard. Having said that, I enjoyed the Leek and Potato Soup with Smoked Salmon Snippets – the other options being Mixed Leaf Soft Herb Salad or Chicken Liver and Apple Terrine. I usually prefer dark poultry meat but the Turkey Breast escalope was succulent and tasty with its almond crumb crust. Other options are Grilled Baby Sole or Baked Brinjal. Desserts are Peppermint Crisped Pan ova with the peppermint giving the meringue type dish an interesting tang. The Tiramisu could have done with more flavour.

However, the experience of dining in this magnificent venue with attentive service comes out tops. Added to that is a show full of fun and nonsense. Early booking is advised on 031 333 6000. – Caroline Smart




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