Stage: Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp – The Globe, Suncoast Casino, Durban
(until October 9)
REVIEW BY BILLY SUTER
AFTER the years of lambasting that the arts have suffered from the Covid-19 pandemic, it is exciting to finally see theatre finding its stride again, and even more wonderful, and also highly admirable in such tough times, to welcome a new local production company.
Sadly, however, as much as I wanted to love Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp, this inaugural production from Durban’s Astrid Productions falls far short of its hype claiming that it is something very special in entertainment, “a unique production of size and quality rarely seen in South Africa”.
Clearly money has been no object in creating this show, for which Johannesburg and Cape Town visits are scheduled for next month and over the festive season. However, no amount of bling and technical wizardly can hide the flaws of dull direction and a plodding, meandering and overlong script. Another groan is some wobbly sound which, certainly at today’s matinee, often left one straining to decipher muffled dialogue.
Astrid Productions is a company headed by KwaZulu-Natal businesswoman Anjil Naidoo, who is on record as having said the skills she has acquired in business have led her to an understanding of what’s required to deliver a world-class spectacle.
The show publicity states that it was during a cancer ordeal that Naidoo “came to realise creating world-class theatre for a family audience was something on her bucket list that was achievable and indeed needed”.
For all good intentions, however, the revised Aladdin that Naidoo has conceived, and which her company has handed over to professionals to create, emerges as a case of style over substance. The show lacks pace and soul, and, frankly, overstays its welcome.
There are some enjoyable dance routines (but note that this is neither a panto nor a musical), a striking sequence with large white masks and a fun enough rap number. Also on the plus side, Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp boasts many truly superb costumes.
Much cash has also gone into the digital imagery, both photographic and animated, which is projected onto a large central backdrop and the three stage wings on each side of it. This provides all the show’s scenery and the imagery is detailed and sometimes impressive.
A big problem, however, is that the scenery’s colours tend to fade, become washed out, when the stage lighting is brought into play. Also, the actors’ shadows on these projections tend to distort the scenery’s perspective. Most jarring of all, though, is the endless unsteadiness of all this imagery – it continually shakes, shudders and bounces, almost making one seasick.
The production has a 20-member cast including some of Durban’s most popular actors – Darren King, Belinda Henwood, Michael Gritten and Rowan Bartlett among them – as well as Vash Singh, star of the film Bhai’s Café and the series Vagrant Queen, in the title role. Also here are a nimble Tshediso Kabulu as a dancing Genie and attractive Yasmin Hankel as Aladdin’s love interest, Princess Almas.
But, for me, all their efforts cannot save this production from turning into a tedious haul. It also did not help my comfort levels that the raked seating in the venue is probably the most cramped and bum-numbing I’ve ever experienced.
Tickets for Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp range in price from R270 to R450. Booking is online via Ticketpro.