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The Dukes' Christmas Show - Aladdin - Review

Chris Satori

Looking at the children gathering in the Dukes foyer with their grownups, all washed and combed and tidied (like me) to see Aladdin, the Dukes' Christmas Show, my anticipation gathers with theirs.  I haven't spent much time this century with young children, and I am borrowing two I've never met before for this evening. When I see them arriving with their mother, my friend, I shake hands politely with them, and they shake hands politely back, and off we all go to find our seats, and my fingers are crossed.

It's a slightly disturbing thing to do, to go to the theatre, when you haven't been for a long time. Life intervened, the theatre wasn't in my personal landscape for a while, but everything changes and here we are. So it felt new to me, to harbour a sense of anticipation that wasn't anxiety, this time, but instead something that actually felt a little bit sparkly. I tell you this so you'll know I'm not the most discerning of critics. Just another punter, out for a good time, I feel like I've earned it; got up, gone out. Bring it on. 

One minute we are sitting pointing out the people we recognise in the audience, the next we are in the market place, in somewhere that might be old Bhagdad and the next we are carried away in a song and a story in which every single character has a pivotal role.

The Duke's Aladdin is a market vendor's pitch to sell a lamp that isn't just any lamp – it has a story. A ripping tale of magic and love, betrayal and loyalty and rags to riches.  (This is, after all, how Scheherezade kept a Sultan from chopping off her head). It's staged in the Round, an intimate space. As we settle into our seats I find myself thinking that this is how theatre began, in the centre of a gathering of people, ready and wanting to enjoy themselves with something shinier than the day-to-day.  We are so close to the action we could almost reach out and touch it, and the charisma of the characters fills us. 

Director Sarah Punshon has given us the magic of theatre here without any elaborate sets or complex effects – a barrow is a market place, hanging lights a palace. It works and that's enough spoilers, I won't tell you how they do the desert - though I want to. The spell of illusion is cast by the characters themselves, who draw us into sharing their hopes and fears, their plots and adventures with Mike Kenny's charming script.

The cast is strong, with a vibrant, warm and infectiously friendly chemistry. It's particularly satisfying that there isn't a single weak link in it, every one of them gives us characters that can hold us.

In Marcquelle Ward we see an Aladdin who has failed to launch, as they say, to the exasperation of his mother. He's some way from being the sharpest tool in the box (though he certainly looks like the strongest) but he yearns for more than he can hope to get - and finds himself getting what he asked for, with only an earnest heart to guide him. His remarkable transformation from an oafish street corner kid to a princess-wooing bling king with some nifty dance moves reflects our secret dreams.  Though hopefully we won't be sneaking on all fours into lovely young women's bedrooms in the hopes of realising them. (A little girl in the audience nailed it when she called out 'Creep!'). 

The Princess didn't exactly take it well either. And Dora Rubinstein is a Princess to her toes. Poised, beautiful, mysterious, imperiously spoilt by her doting father and as annoying as she is charming, one sees right away that she is capable of doing Aladdin considerably more damage than his wicked Uncle, but no one ever said falling in love with royalty was easy, did they? And anyway, how do you make sure you get a good husband when you're a billionaire's daughter who can't ordinarily meet men yourself, I find myself wondering. Generously. (This is what Princesses do to you.)


Dora Rubinstein makes her entrance as The Princess
Dora Rubinstein makes her entrance as The Princess

Wicked Uncle Arif Javid is a natural comedian as the lying, machinating baddie we love to boo - and he's so bad he doesn't care. But nobody could really hate him after that finger-clicking number. I am definitely going to check him out in his new film release, Finding Fatima.

Aladdin's mum (and every other female character) was played by Helen Longworth, who took a pretty stereotyped and unglamorous role and made it a powerhouse - strongly grounded and funny - and all the more touching in her vulnerability as her circumstances change. She is the backbone and sinew of the show, the base line of the ensemble.

And Delme Thomas is the lead guitar. His Genie and storytelling Market Trader is the playful, sparkling heart of the show - and the kids' favourite, not just for his skillful hand magic, which had them full of wonder and questions in the interval (Q: 'How does he do it?' A: 'With Magic.') but also with his irrepressible joy and wit. I can see how he won last year's Award for Acting Excellence from The Stage. His Genie comes across like the comedy lovechild of David Bowie and Tom Jones. (Like I said, 'With Magic'). 

The musical numbers are splendid; when the cast all come together in them they have us bouncing in our seats and bring the house down. Claire Tustin and Ziad Jabero have put Mike Kenny's lyrics to satisfying music the cast can really get behind to give us exuberant highlights, and Zak Phillips-Yates' choreography plays to every side of the house for laughs. 

The talent, energy, friendly warmth and infectious joy shine out of this cast in this show - it's ideal for bringing people of all ages together at Christmas. I may have only shaken hands with the kids at the start, but I got a surprise hug at the interval already. Magic! 


Delme Thomas' Genie gets ready for a royal wedding
Delme Thomas' Genie gets ready for a royal wedding


Aladdin is on at the Dukes, with evening and matinee performances through December until 6 January with tickets from £10, depending on date, seating and concession status. For venue info, performance times and booking visit