As is the tradition with Rigg's productions, almost the entire House was involved in one way or another, whether it was the 30-odd cast on stage, or the backstage crew, those involved in set design, programme design, and the multitude of other roles needed to make the show a success. Coming so early in the term (just three weeks in) the pressure was really on to put together the Two-Act production, with rehearsals ramping up in the week leading to curtains up. Despite scripts being in hand almost up until the dress rehearsal, nevertheless by Friday evening's opening night, the cast were confident that the show would be a success.
Of course, the story of Aladdin is a familiar one, though those settling down in their seats in the Ashton Theatre would not find everything in the pantomime loyal to the original fable! Indeed, the appearance of Indiana Jones (played by Ed Graves, whip in hand) in the climactic scene was one such variation, with a further unexpected cameo from 'Who Wants to be a Millionaire?' game show host Chris Tarrant (played by Jake Carter). Jack Kinnaird took on the role of Prince, and despite complaining of severe chaffing due to a tight-fitting waistcoat, nevertheless showed his thespian credentials in the role.
The story was framed by the rambunctious duo of Generals Dickie and George (an unlikely pairing of Charlie Cooper and Hugo Morgan) who opened the show by getting the audience warmed up and briefed on the expectations of a panto audience. Much booing and hissing ensued, particularly whenever the villainous Jaffar (James Aitken) entered the stage, his 6 ft 7' frame giving him a wizardly malevolence, though one couldn't take him entirely seriously wearing bright red stockings! His sidekicks Mustapha and Nizrene were played by the Schofield brothers Will and Jonty, with their brotherly rap being one of the highlights of the show. No one will forget, moreover, the performance of Krem Todorova as the Witch, whose terrifying rants wouldn't have been out of place in a Doc Law lesson.
Further female support came from Phoebe Ingram who was appropriately regal in the role of the Sultana, Elena McAllister as a Welsh nanny who died in the first Act but miraculously appeared by the second, and of course the title role of Aladdin which was a role well up to the capabilities of Abbey Attenborough. Of course, one cannot mention the fabulous girls in the production without pausing to highlight the glamorous portrayal of the Dame by our very own Freddie Perkins, whose Marge Simpson-esque blue hair and polka-dot skirt transformed this normally serious and earnest young man into a seductive Cabaret Club host at the Kit Kat Klub. His vocals on 'Hey Big Spender' were a particular highlight, though his father in the audience seemed somewhat perturbed to see his son in such a light!
There were of course too many performances to mention all in this review, but needless to say it was a hugely entertaining show, and whilst we had suggested somewhat tongue-in-cheek that this would be the best House play that the audience would have seen so far this term, in fact it seems highly unlikely that the Ashton Theatre will see another show this year that is so entertaining, eye-wateringly funny and clearly enormous fun to perform in. One parent leaving the auditorium was heard to declare that Aladdin was "the very best school production I have ever seen - and I've seen a lot in my time!"
The standout performance perhaps was U6th former James Aitken as Jaffar, who carried the show and led from the front, clearly enjoying working the audience. However, there are plenty of juniors in the House who showed that they will be able to follow in James's shoes, most notably the excellent Jonty Schofield as Nizrene, and Robert Hartwell as the Fortune Teller. The future looks very promising indeed!
It goes without saying that to put on a show such as this involves a huge amount of work, and indeed it is nothing short of a miracle that the end product was such a success. It simply wouldn't have been possible without the energy, enthusiasm and passion of Chris Cook, who once again delivered a fabulously entertaining theatrical spectacle, and one that will live long in the memory.