There’s magic in the air from the moment the Genie of the Lamp appears on stage. He’s mischievous, mirthful, a total marvel – and Alim Jadavji can’t wait to get his teeth into him...
“I’m so excited about playing Genie of the Lamp because he’s an international genie and I get to play loads of different characters in one,” says Alim.
“There’s humour, moments of heart – I’m really excited to explore that and take Aladdin on this journey – and there’s a lot of pressure to get this right; I do feel it. People wait to see what the Genie brings because he creates a lot of the magic, but I’m just going to put aside that pressure and have fun with it, play the truth, play the magic and have a wacky time because it’s a wacky piece.
“It’s a wacky panto this year!”
Alim is coming back to Lighthouse after landing a coveted Panto Award with his old pal Andrew Pollard as Best Sisters for their show stopping double act as Nadine and Doris in Cinderella last year. They had a ball – so much so that both jumped at the chance of a reunion in Poole.
“I think they were really keen to bring us back and it’s such a lovely compliment to hear that a lot of the audience really enjoyed us as a couple. When they kindly asked Andy and I back I said we have to find a moment for us to be reunited on stage and we’ve found it, which is very exciting – we shall be having fun on stage in a cheeky number to tease everyone with. No details, you’ll just have to wait and see.
“But it’s lovely to be back. It’s not often you have pantos where you can be part of the creative process and Chris is really good at using the best bits of your talent and adding that to the script.”
Traditionally, Aladdin is one of the most popular pantomime titles, but there’s no avoiding the sensitivities around casting and staging that have emerged in recent years. It’s something that Lighthouse, the creative team – writer/director Chris Jarvis, Production Designer James Smith and Musical Supervisor Darren Reeves – are acutely aware of, as is the cast. And none more so than Alim.
“They’ve really listened,” he explains. “Aladdin is a difficult one at the moment, it’s hot water, but I think they’ve asked all the right questions, and they want to get it right. You will never see an Aladdin like the Aladdin that’s happening this year; it’s so unique. Chris has brought together a wonderfully diverse group of actors that are going to tell a 21st century story. To be honest, they are possibly going to pave the way for how it could be done in the future.
“Producers are scared of committing to Aladdin, but not Lighthouse. They’ve gone: ‘Hey, let’s create a new story whilst hanging on to the traditional panto elements and make something new and exciting.’ I think people are going to be really thrilled by what they see.
“The cast they’ve got this year is cracking and I’m really excited about Benjamin Armstrong as Aladdin. They’ve got a South Asian person playing Aladdin – you rarely see that.”
Alim’s excitement at what this production of Aladdin could achieve is palpable. He’s genuinely thrilled to back at Lighthouse with so many familiar faces and talents. Clearly, winning a Panto Award is a large part of that, but it’s not the only factor. Far from it.
“The award was such an honour and a privilege. It was ten years of having worked with Andy which made it a really lovely full circle moment – it’s not often how you find someone else where sparks fly and Andy’s one of them. That’s why it was so important that whilst we’re playing different roles this year, we still find moments where we can create that magic.
“But what’s nice is that Poole is creating a company that the audience can start to really get to know because it is really special when you start to build a relationship with the audience. They’re building a reputable theatre panto at Lighthouse and it is really becoming a notable one. Last year, it was a privilege to be nominated as one of the best pantos in the country and we definitely should have won! Even just getting nominated highlights we are very quickly becoming a frontrunner nationally.
“Maybe this is the year?”
:: Written and directed by Chris Jarvis, who appears as Widow Twankey, with Production Designer James Smith and Musical Supervisor Darren Reeves, Aladdin stars Melinda Messenger as the Spirit of the Ring and features Ionica Adriana as Princess Jasmine and Bournemouth-born Josh Haberfield as the comic character Wishee-Washee. Pantomime Award winners Andrew Pollard and Alim Jadavji, whose winning double act as the ugly sisters in Cinderella last year stole the show, are back at Lighthouse playing the villain Professor Pocus and Genie of the Lamp respectively. In his pantomime debut, the title role is played by West End actor Benjamin Armstrong.
:: Aladdin opens on Thursday 7 December and runs until New Year’s Eve. Tickets are on sale now at www.lighthousepoole.co.uk, or call 01202 280000.
photo by Richard Budd