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Review: Aladdin at Hope Street Theatre ****

Last year Drops of Light brought an immediacy and intimacy to its production of Beauty and the Beast by performing it in the round (well, OK, rectangle) at the Black-E.

The venue may have changed, but the company has retained the same stage lay out for its 2018 offering – a charming, homespun confection of magic carpets, Chinese laundries, and a girl band splintered by ambition and creative differences.

And while this Aladdin may not boast the biggest budget, or be the slickest, shiniest show you’ll see on stage in Liverpool this Christmas, it could just be the one with the biggest heart.

There’s a lot to like about the production, being performed by a core cast of professional actors augmented by ‘aspiring amateurs’, performing arts students and graduates, and no fewer than 13 alternating teams of young dancers – all drilled through a series of bright and breezy dance routines by Rare Studios’ Lindsay Inglesby.

The sheer numbers mean the stage feels well-populated, and director Sam Donovan makes sure the action ranges up and down the room so no one side of the audience feels hard done by.

LIPA graduate Adam McCoy returns from 2017, this time as Aladdin, the ‘scal with a heart of gold’ who yearns to win the love of the feisty Princess Jazz (Tori Hargreaves, also returning after playing Belle last season), while Liam Dascombe is his ‘full-on div’ brother Wishee Washee, and panto veteran Jamie Greer takes on Dame duties as Widow Twankey.

Emma Bispham as Lady Abanazer. Above: Adam McCoy (Aladdin) and Helen Carter (Genie)

In a novel twist on the usual tale, we have an equal opportunities baddie in Barbara Abanazer (Emma Bispham rocking a Wicked Witch-meets-Greatest-Showman-beared-lady look), erstwhile member of girl band Atomic Kitten Heels whose vaunting ambition led her to go solo in spectacular fashion by imprisoning her fellow band members in a lamp (Helen Carter) and a ring (Maia Johnson) respectively.

It’s all good clean fun – Jessica Lea’s script is only lightly sprinkled with blink-and-you’ll-miss-em double entendres – and the children in the audience are completely invested in what’s going on around them, evidenced by the verbal interactions with the cast.

There’s a steady stream of songs delivered with conviction and some strong vocals, and which culminate in a cheeky Abba-nazer medley. Super Troupers indeed.

And in the best traditions of panto, good trumps evil, and we all go away with a positive message that it’s not what you’ve got, but how you behave, that makes you a winner in life.

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