Aladdin has proved to be a very popular choice of production in the local area this winter, whether a full-blown traditional pantomime, Disney’s Junior version or another musical variation, and I wasn’t sure before tonight’s production which version I would be seeing. In all honesty, that still wasn’t clear by the end of the evening as the production, written by Director Jayne Stephens, seems to fall somewhere between all forms of the tale. The scattered familiar aspects of pantomime are there, but seem more an aside to the audience within a new telling of an old, established story than an integral part of the narrative.
However, what is absolutely beyond doubt is the manner in which The Gantry Youth Theatre continue to honour the mission statement of the Company: to be “accessible to all, fostering teamwork and building confidence through new creative opportunities.” The large cast (numbering around 70 – 80 young performers) are extremely well disciplined, well rehearsed, exhibiting brilliant teamwork and commitment to each other – and, above all, are clearly having fun and enjoying the whole experience. Pantomime is often the first taste that young children have of live theatre and there are some very young enthusiastic performers in the Company who are possibly enjoying their first taste of “treading the boards”! Stephens and her team have succeeded in introducing a youthful cast to both performance and teamwork. The Company has obviously gelled together well, and that camaraderie is apparent for all to see.
It seems impolite to single out individual names within a cohesive team performance of this number, but it seems equally discourteous not to mention the valiant performances within the principal line up of Faith Jefferis-Laird (a charming Aladdin), Maurice Sainsbury (a charismatic Wishy Washy), Chandler Sellwood (throwing himself into the role of a traditional panto dame as Widow Twankey with enthusiasm), while Ellis Brett grows into the role of the villainous Azaar throughout the production, perfecting the sinister stare of his shoulder, with a lovely voice, and ably assisted by his brash and assertive guards (Estelle Nelson and Kayla Yurt). Nellie Woolford-Pearce and Abbie Knight bring a touch of comedy and innovation to their role as the magic Flying Carpet, while Stephens’ choreography is performed with some notable style; it is obvious from the ‘armography’, sculpted hands, extensions and lines that there are a number of blossoming dancers amongst the group.
The costumes and set do help to establish the location and reinforce the visual expectations of easily recognizable characters before they are introduced to the audience, but unfortunately some of the links between scenes didn’t always flow and there were some tuning issues tonight (possibly related to sound imbalance, mixture of radio mics, unenhanced voices and pre-recorded music), but what might be lacking in finesse is more than more made up for with a sense of commitment, cooperation and fun. The Gantry Youth Theatre have been performing in Southampton for 30 years – and look set to be performing for many more years to come.