SSE Arena, Belfast
Director: Dan Gordon
Producers: Joe Rea & Martin Lynch
The Spectacular Aladdin is well named. Ireland has not seen its like before – a big, brash arena pantomime in a wide open theatre space inside a 4,000 seater ice hockey and concert tour venue. This new venture adds significantly to Belfast’s long-established programme of traditional Christmas fare and has set itself the aim of pulling in new audiences to a very different genre of live performance.
It is a risky undertaking, commercially and creatively, in terms of the scale of the production, the size of the venue and the unknowable dimension of public response. The producers and director Dan Gordon have met the challenge with a big name lead, an attractive cast from home and away and quality live music, costumes, lighting and special effects.
Notable contributions among the creative team include Claire Morrissey’s set design, John Gallagher’s lighting, Susan Scott’s costumes, Luis Poveda’s amazing screen effects and a high octane score from musical director Conor Mitchell and a live ensemble.
The sound level, at fever pitch before the show begins, rises steadily over the next two hours while, in the midst of all the razzle dazzle, the familiar tale survives intact. Against a blinding backdrop of non-stop digital illusions, a handful of characters stand out while others are less defined and suffer from a patchy script. And inevitably, some of the big, sappy duets struggle to connect when the singers are on opposite sides of the huge stage.
While the performance space might benefit from being a little more enclosed, the arena’s exits and entrances are imaginatively used, most memorably in the flamboyant entrance of the Empress (Nuala McKeever) and her daughter Jasmine (Nadia Forde), carried aloft beneath a huge ornate canopy.
Liverpool-Irish pop singer Jake Carter is a winning Aladdin and Rhydian’s Abanazer an oustanding visual and vocal presence, but it is Christina Nelson’s jolly little Wishie Washie, who holds the packed house in the palm of her hand from the off.
This ambitious production is a pantomime for the X Factor generation. It will not be everyone’s cup of tea but it has certainly hit the zeitgeist and the word is already out that more is to come next year in the form of The Spectacular Cinderella.
Runs until 27 December.
This is an edited version of the review which was published in The Stage on 19 December.