Aladdin panto review (The Marlowe Theatre)

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★★★★★

With December just around the corner, it is beginning to look a lot like Christmas and one of the things I adore about this time of year is the seasonal shows. Canterbury is a very Christmassy place to live and when I think of festive things to do in the city each year, the Marlowe Theatre Pantomime immediately comes to mind. I have been fortunate enough to cover a few in recent years and I always really enjoy the humour, clever writing and dazzling sets.

Aladdin programme outside The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury

This year the theatre and co-producer Evolution Pantomimes are taking on Aladdin and with resident dame Ben Roddy back for his 15th run, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to review the show yesterday evening. Featuring Strictly’s Kevin Clifton, Mister Maker’s Phil Gallagher, West End superstar Courtney Bowman and West End performers Alistair So and Lauren Chia, I couldn’t wait to find out if the 2023 Marlowe Panto would live up to my high expectations.

Initial thoughts

The sequin-filled production of Aladdin takes the rags to riches story and adds some panto magic, moving the setting from the Middle East to the ‘Old Sturry Road’ (a reference to Canterbury city). It is chaotic in the best way, with additional characters, lively musical numbers and nostalgic segments that honour the history of the Marlowe panto. It is another fantastic theatrical collaboration, with some refreshing changes for 2023. It would have been brilliant to see the return of the wheelbarrow of puns which has taken on a different format this year, but this is a personal preference given how slick the comedy routine has been in the past.

Aladdin programme in front of The Marlowe Theatre Christmas tree in Canterbury, Kent

Visual design, costumes and sets

An explosion of colour, sparkle and joy, the costumes and overall visual design are incredibly uplifting, reflecting the mood in the audience watching the show. Whilst there are mostly glitter and bold colours on stage, we are treated to a technically clever, stripped back magic carpet scene, which really made me reflect on the future of panto and set design.

Curtain for Aladdin at The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury

Pop culture references and music

Without giving away any spoilers, there is a film reference and scene at the start of act one which is so perfectly timed for 2023. I found myself howling with laughter when I realised what the creative team had come up with; Paul Hendy has clearly outdone himself with the writing this year.

Aladdin at The Marlowe Theatre, photo by Manuel Harlan
© Manuel Harlan

Music always plays a huge part in the Marlowe panto, but the setlist for Aladdin is incredibly sentimental, bringing back some memorable songs from recent decades and intertwining them with comedy. The most exciting musical segment is the Aladdin-themed take on the Elephant Love Medley from Moulin Rouge!, which as a musical theatre fan I much appreciated. In contrast to the comedy sides of the show, it highlights the innocence of the relationship between Aladdin (Alistair So) and Jasmine (Lauren Chia), as they navigate the craziness of panto.

Spectacular cast performances 

For me, Ben Roddy is the spirit of the Marlowe panto, following very much in the footsteps of comedy legend Dave Lee. It is great to see the performer on top form again, bringing the larger-than-life Dame Dolly to life on stage. The theatrical genre usually focuses on comedy and audience interaction, but I was so impressed by Kevin Clifton’s vocals and dance numbers in the villainous role of Ivan Chachacha. He also has a fantastic dynamic on stage with Courtney Bowman who plays a genie called the Spirit of the Ring.

Aladdin at The Marlowe Theatre, photo by Manuel Harlan
© Manuel Harlan

There were a few moments where the gags felt slightly overdone, but the principal cast took this completely in their stride, poking fun at themselves and in turn, encouraging more engagement. The closer to Christmas the cast get, the easier it will be for the audience to get into the festive spirit and I thought the company did remarkably well for the very start of panto season.

Aladdin finale at The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury

A must-see in Kent this Christmas

Aladdin is a high energy, musical extravaganza, filled with spectacular numbers, outrageous comedy and hilarious Kent-themed gags. I’ve lived in the city permanently for 6 years now and I have to say, this is definitely the year that I have felt most at home in the panto audience. If you’re local to the area or are visiting the city this Christmas, definitely consider Aladdin at the Marlowe Theatre for a festive theatre trip. Performances run from 24 Nov 2023 – 07 Jan 2024 and tickets are available via the theatre’s website.

Thanks for reading my blog today.

Love Kat xxxx

*My ticket and programme for Aladdin were gifted in exchange for a review.

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Comments

  1. Jackie Sadler says:

    Well what can I say another fantastic panto performance at the Marlowe. I visited yesterday with my three sons, daughter-in-law law and grandchildren 7and 13. The first introduction came from Paul Hendy himself to let the audience know that Aladdin played by Alastair So was unable to perform due to illness. Fear not though and up steps Liam Raven who had just two hours to learn the routine, he was absolutely outstanding and rightly had the loudest cheer in the encore at the end. Everyone was just brilliant, I don’t know how Paul manages to get such fantastic and wonderful cast members together. Who knew Kevin had such a lovely voice!! As always, Ben Roddy superb and my favourite PC World. As always I have already booked for Beauty and the Beast 2024 and tickets are selling fast. Thank you so much for a wonderful afternoon.

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