Though a musical comedy with pantomime elements, MSTFYP's adaptation is nothing like the Disney hit movie. Instead, it is based on the 1001 Tales of the Arabian Nights. Writers and lyricists Jenny Jackson and Catherine Martin, have adapted two of the 1001's most child-friendly narratives. Director Terry Ryan has provided a new vision for the popular play, based on the contemporary experience of children living with boredom and few resources, in a refugee camp. This is not explicit and the musical remains playful but it underlines MSTFYP's teaching ethos of motivating its young performers to another level of empathy with their characters.
Aladdin's proud MSTFYP Drama School cast after opening performance
Considering most of the amateur cast members have never performed in front of a live audience before, I would say that Ryan's directing technique has worked. He has created a perfectly gelled ensemble of team players, each taking turns with the starring role. It's a joy to watch a young cast enjoying their art and their new-found experience as live players, deftly handling anything the audience throws at them.
The musical unfolds as a play within a play, opening in a far eastern marketplace, where the children are poor and have little to do but sell their wares and tell stories, to brighten their days. Within this storytelling construct, Margie McCrae's creative team, toy with the question - how do children play? Through random assignation of roles as The Tales unfold, they capture the unpredictable, childish essence of 'play pretend'. It's a clever device and the audience enjoys being surprised at every turn.
A tight, ensemble cast brings the Arabian Tales to life (photo by Margie McCrae, MSTFYP)
Set design by Derrick Cox and lighting by Grant Fraser, work brilliantly throughout the performance, to conjure up a mysterious Eastern-feel and shadow-play special effects. Against this visually pleasing backdrop, appears the famed storyteller Schererazade (acted beautifully by Meha Batra), the tyrannical Sultan of Sasan (performed with excellent comic timing by Grace Dodd) and the brave, young Aladdin (an exuberant Dion Carrothers).
Wide-eyed Aladdin, is a foil to Emiline Barnett's scheming Magician (photo by Margie McCrae, MSTFYP)
As the packed house, waited with baited breath for the appearance of the Genie, we were introduced to the 'smelly' morality tale of Abu Kassim's Everlasting Shoes, with a wonderfully hapless performance by Bevin Nanayakkara. The young audience was enthralled by the idea of Kassim's ponging footwear and his golden donations to the crowd. The kids, many of whom were under ten, laughed and cried out in all the right places, demonstrating the true joy of watching children's theatre. The adults had a blast too, with a special nod for Andrew Chesser's humorous score, which played to Western perceptions of old Arabian culture.
Grace Dodd's Sultan and Alicia Benson's Grand Vizier lock horns (photo by Margie McCrae, MSTFYP)
And in a footnote to this review, the Friends of Marian Street Theatre held their September 'Sixty Minute Soiree', on the evening of Aladdin's Tales' opening show. Veteran actor and guest speaker, Ron Haddrick, described the sense of community that made the now-closed Marian Street Theatre, unique, in its glory days. Pending the results of a Feasibility Study on funding the re-opening of the theatre, the plan is to develop an 'Arts Hub' for Ku-ring-gai. The complex's objective will be to foster that lapsed sense of cultural community and provide a permanent residence for Marian Street Theatre for Young People, among many other quality initiatives. Watch this space...
The show certainly unfolded in a most unexpected manner as Brydie described but it was a hoot for both young and older audience members alike. Hope the "powers that be" can resurrect a permanent venue for these and other young players to have fun and develop their acting skills as well.