Aladdin: our first relaxed performance

Words: Sarah Munday

Phil Gallagher (Mister Maker) with

Phil Gallagher with local mum Jodie Mills and her children who will benefit from the Relaxed Performance.

“Forever learning and adjusting”: you have no idea how reassuring those words were!

They were written by Jenny Maddox, Head of Access and Communities at the Unicorn in London, the UK’s leading professional theatre for young audiences. The Unicorn has been holding relaxed performances for some time now and it was only natural that I should go to them, and in particular, the lovely Jenny, for advice.

Our first relaxed performance (RP) is next month (6 January), and will be for Aladdin – an obvious choice, or was it?

So many questions needed to be asked and answered before we fully committed to the RP, which came about as a natural progression to our access programme (audio-described, captioned and signed performances), and our desire to make The Marlowe a “people’s theatre” and truly accessible to all.

For those who don’t know, a RP is a specially-tailored production for customers with a range of disabilities, including those on the Autistic Spectrum.

Several adjustments are made: loud bangs, pyrotechnics, smoke and flashing lights are removed from the show, the house lights are left dimmed and not turned off, and a chill-out space is there for all to use.

Theatres like the Unicorn, Polka Theatre (another children’s venue in London) and West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds, have been providing RPs for years.

In 2011 an Autism and Theatre Conference was held, followed in 2012 by the Relaxed Performance Project, a partnership between The Prince’s Foundation for Children and the Arts, The Society of London Theatre, and Theatrical Management Association.

The project was collaborative and brought together theatre staff and volunteers from a wide range of backgrounds, experiences and interests in the participant theatres, and partners such as national and local charities.

From November 2012 to June 2013, the project engaged with a total of 4,983 audience members at eight theatres across the UK with an average audience of 622. The total audience comprised 42% families living with autism, 33% community groups (eg autism specific community organisations; SEN schools), and 25% others (eg individuals and families).

Interviewed during and/or surveyed after an RP, 60% reported they had never been to the theatre before as a family, 30% had never been to the theatre, and 90% had never been to an RP.

The project developed a model of best practice for dissemination at both a national and international level, in order to share its learning outcomes with audience members and theatres across the UK and beyond. Importantly, it provided a new example of how theatres – and their programmes – might impact upon those critical social issues of access, inclusion, tolerance and understanding.

And so we started to think about an RP at The Marlowe Theatre: there wasn’t a “eureka moment”, just a “dipping in and out of” the idea period until the time was right to say “let’s go for it!”.

Of course, we realised it would take some planning and so programmed it for more than a year in advance.

As The Marlowe’s unofficial access “guardian”, I was charged with doing the homework: , it has been challenging, interesting and I’m sure, ultimately rewarding.

As those who know me will verify, I’m no good with manuals. I don’t have the time or patience for them and my ethos is to simply switch things on, fiddle around a bit, and hope they work (which inevitably, they don’t).

How I have longed though for an RP manual: a document detailing how to run an RP, from A to Z!

But, I’ve learnt that as RPs become more common place (you may see them referred to as autism-friendly performances), everyone is learning as they go along. Hence the words from Jenny at the Unicorn: “forever learning and adjusting”.

Along with two colleagues, I experienced an RP at the theatre (1001 Nights, by the rather wonderful – and now Kent-based – Transport theatre company). Jenny emailed me afterwards to say that on reflection, they didn’t quite get the lighting right but they would know better for next time.

I have asked questions of many people (and probably made a pest of myself in some quarters) and I am grateful to everyone for their help. I have gradually pieced together the jigsaw that will be our first RP, and while there has been much more to do – and learn – the warm reaction from the people who will benefit from the RP has filled me with confidence. I am sure the show will be one to remember – and not just for those in the audience.

Thanks (in advance) to the cast of Aladdin, and our Front of House and technical teams for the part they have played/will play. And special thanks to Heather Wildsmith, Cultural Development Manager at the National Autistic Society. Her recent visit to us was absolutely invaluable and inspirational – and has filled me with confidence and excitement.

Jodie Mills, of Canterbury, is someone else who has been invaluable in her support and guidance. She is mum to six-year-old Stanley, and Thomas, who is five and who is autistic.

Jodie is passionate about giving Thomas the same access and opportunities as Stanley and other children: “Some people are lucky enough to get that enjoyment from standard performances, but all of us are different and to have other needs considered, such as sensory and social skills, makes the difference between having that opportunity and sadly not.”

Aladdin will be Jodie and Thomas’s first Relaxed Performance and she believes they will both benefit from it: “It will be a positive experience for me – I’ll be supported just by the simplicity of it being focused around the potential and varying needs of my child.

“I’m hoping for a much more relaxed Thomas, less pressure on him to conform is just one way he’ll be able to cope with his anxieties and other issues. Thomas will get the chance to enjoy something he wouldn’t ordinarily be able to even try.”

We’ll also be taking our experiences and learning into our next Relaxed Performance for Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs on Tuesday 5 January 2016.

So come along, enjoy, and do let us know what you think!

Aladdin is at The Marlowe Theatre until Sunday 11 January. Tickets for the Relaxed Performance (Tuesday 6 January) are available by calling 01227 787787.

Aladdin: the reviews are in!

Aladdin at The Marlowe Theatre Canterbury. Photo by Paul Clapp.

Photo: Paul Clapp

So Aladdin is up and running and you guys are absolutely loving it! We’ve rounded up our reviews so you can see what the critics think, and you can also read audience comments here.

If you see the show, please do tweet us @marlowetheatre or share a message on Facebook to let us know what you thought!

“Featuring a glittering cast…The show is a brilliant visual sensation and we were enthralled by both the jokes and the fabulous acting. We were crying out with laughter at the actors’ hilarious high-jinks.

This pantomime is certainly well worth a visit. It’s sure to fill you all with festive cheer.”

The Sun

“Our three-year-old Oscar, a panto first timer, was rolling with laughter at the slapstick comedy, grooving in his seat to the songs and was thoroughly carried away with the traditional audience participation that all kids, and most of the adults in the audience, love.

If you still haven’t booked your tickets do it now. This is a West End-style panto here in our fair city. And you most definitely get your money’s worth and much more.”

Kentish Gazette

“riotous and great fun…The children will love the fun (audience participation is the name of the game) and the clutch of modern songs including Pharell’s Happy, while adults will be able to have a giggle at the more ‘grown-up’ quips…Sabrina Aloueche steals the show as the Essex-girl Spirit of the Ring.”

Canterbury Times

Scott Maslen and Sabrina Aloueche in Aladdin at The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury. Photo by Paul Clapp.

Scott Maslen and Sabrina Aloueche in Aladdin. Photo by Paul Clapp.

“As Widow Twankey, [Roddy] steals every scene he is in, with outrageous costumes, smart quips, and a confidence and comfort in his surroundings – that it is impossible not to warm to him.

But then its difficult not to warm to the Marlowe panto each year. It reeks of quality and family entertainment. The sets of Aladdin are rich, the effects, at times, remarkably spectacular.

Without wishing to spoil anything, the magic carpet sequence is breathtaking and there’s plenty of animal magic on stage too with some well executed set pieces.

This is an excellent, high quality production, full of all the ingredients a pantomime needs to make your Christmas sparkle. You’ll laugh and sing and probably want to go back again the following night.”

Kent On Sunday

“bringing trademark sunshine to the South East… lavish sets (Helga Wood’s design); slick musical numbers; gloriously over-the-top costumes (including some to rival the three giants last year); and, of course, those ‘spurious comedy sketches’…Spectacular.”

Public Reviews ★★★★

Aladdin at The Marlowe Theatre Canterbury. Photo by Paul Clapp.

Photo by Paul Clapp.

“Pure pantomime spectacle…Pyrotechnics, fire and a strong lighting design add to the sense of spectacle, but it is slapstick and comedy that form the show’s backbone and are the trademark of an Evolution pantomime.

Roddy is a superb Twankey….The art of Daming takes many years to refine and Roddy demonstrates the variety of skills the role demands, from pratfuls to puns, seductiveness to silliness whilst balancing caring with chaos in perfect measure.

As Wishee Washee [Phil] Gallagher delivers an energetic and engaging performance, and Lloyd Hollett completes the terrific trio as PC Pongo. Hollett is one of the best comics Pantoland has to offer.

Topping the bill, Scott Maslen is a wonderfully camp and conniving Abanazar who isn’t afraid to send himself up.”

British Theatre Guide

“…a luxury product including plenty of spectacle: flying across the auditorium, a near life-size stage elephant and a malevolent giant mummy. Eight fine ensemble dancers and Helga Wood’s lush sets add zest too.”

The Stage

Lloyd Hollett in Aladdin at The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury. Photo by Paul Clapp.

Photo by Paul Clapp.

“An incredibly lavish backdrop and range of glitzy costumes…a range of incredible dance sequences.

Scott Maslen…is utterly entertaining as the wicked wizard. Mister Maker (Phil Gallagher) who is a winner among mums and dads too with his comic timing and occasional naughty joke…Ben Roddy…is pure comedy gold, with an extensive and flamboyant wardrobe and feisty attitude; the late Dave Lee would certainly be proud.

It is Sabrina Aloueche as the Spirit of the Ring however who wins the vocal competition.

Once again, the Marlowe panto is an all-round fantastic performance. The show is always a delight for the whole family and they’re only getting better with age.”

The Void

“…as glitzy, spectacular and eccentric as you could want a Christmas panto to be.

The production is an absolute extravaganza.  Between the detailed costumes and elaborate sets, Aladdin has more glitz than a disco-ball. It’s absolute madness and the kids love it.

Aloueche, playing The Spirit of the Ring, stands out as the most talented cast member by far, showcasing her background in some serious London musicals. As well as singing and dancing, she reveals an unexpectedly funny side (considering she has performed in the none-too-cheery Les Mis). The audience also goes wild for her rendition of Let It Go.”

Plays To See

“Another outstanding pantomime from The Marlowe Theatre, with an extremely talented supporting cast who never fail to make the audience laugh.”

The Angry Microwave ★★★★

Aladdin is at The Marlowe Theatre until Sunday 11 January.

Panto public appearances

Our Aladdin cast, left to right: Scott Maslen, Lloyd Hollett, Ben Roddy, Bentley Kalu, Masashi Fujimoto, Phil Gallagher, Christine Allado and David Albury.

Our Aladdin cast, left to right: Scott Maslen, Lloyd Hollett, Ben Roddy, Bentley Kalu, Masashi Fujimoto, Phil Gallagher, Christine Allado (Princess Jasmine, now being played by Rosa O’Reilly) and David Albury. Photo by Tim Stubbings.

It’s that time of year again!

It’s 41 days until Christmas (yes, really) and just 15 days until pantomime begins. Our cast are busy rehearsing but they’re also going to be taking some time to do the exciting job of switching on the Christmas lights and meeting you guys.

So, here’s where you can catch them:

Canterbury High Street Christmas Lights Switch-On
Thursday 20 November at 6pm
With Scott Maslen, Phil Gallagher, Ben Roddy, Lloyd Hollett and other members of the cast

Deal Christmas Lights Switch-On
Friday 21 November at 7pm
With Scott Maslen, Phil Gallagher, Ben Roddy, Lloyd Hollett and other members of the cast

Whitefriars Christmas Event
Saturday 22 November at 1pm
With Scott Maslen, Phil Gallagher, Ben Roddy, Lloyd Hollett and other members of the cast

Fenwick Toy Department Meet And Greet
Saturday 22 November at 2pm
With Phil Gallagher, Scott Maslen, Ben Roddy, David Albury (Aladdin) and Rosa O’Reilly (Princess Jasmine)

Ashford Christmas Lights Switch-On
Saturday 22 November at 4pm
With Scott Maslen, Ben Roddy, David Albury (Aladdin) and Rosa O’Reilly (Princess Jasmine)

Dover Christmas Lights Switch-On
Saturday 22 November at 5pm
With Phil Gallagher, Lloyd Hollett, Sabrina Aloueche (Spirit of the Ring), Bentley Kalu (Genie of the Lamp) and Masashi Fujimoto (Emperor of China)

Aladdin is at The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury, from Friday 28 November to Sunday 11 January.

Our Aladdin launch day

Our Aladdin cast, left to right: Scott Maslen, Lloyd Hollett, Ben Roddy, Bentley Kalu, Masashi Fujimoto, Phil Gallagher, Christine Allado and David Albury.

Our Aladdin cast, left to right: Scott Maslen, Lloyd Hollett, Ben Roddy, Bentley Kalu, Masashi Fujimoto, Phil Gallagher, Christine Allado and David Albury.

It may only be June, but Sunday was all about panto! Our annual launch is the first time our pantomime cast get to meet each other (if they haven’t already done so) and is also our chance to say hello to the people who will share our theatre for two months over Christmas.

It wasn’t all about the niceties though – it’s always a busy day and this year seemed even busier. Somehow – and with the help of lots of water (it was hot!) and Ben Roddy’s jokes – we managed to do a photo shoot, film our green screen moving posters, interview cast members, film our television advert (you’re in for a treat), and record the radio ads. Phew.

Thanks to everyone (especially the cast) for making it such a productive and fun day. If we’ve started as we mean to go on, it’s going to be some show!

As you can see, pantomime isn’t just for Christmas. The launch is just one of the many activities that take place throughout the year, from casting to curtain up. Read more about this at a later date.

So, here’s Ben Roddy saying hello and introducing you to our wonderful cast.

And now for a glimpse behind the scenes…

Aladdin at The Marlowe Theatre 2014 David Albury and Christine Allado as Aladdin and Jasmine.

A costume adjustment during a photo shoot with our Aladdin (David Albury) and Jasmine (Christine Allado).

Ben Roddy and Lloyd Hollett (Aladdin at The Marlowe Theatre 2014)

Ben and Lloyd chat to a journalist in The Green Room.

Aladdin at The Marlowe Theatre Canterbury, television advert filming on press launch day

Filming for the television advert begins with a dance number from our ensemble cast.

Ben Roddy, Lloyd Hollett and Phil Gallagher in Aladdin at The Marlowe Theatre. Press launch day.

A break between filming for Ben, Phil and Lloyd.

Masashi Fujimoto as the Emperor of China.  Aladdin at The Marlowe Theatre 2014.

Masashi Fujimoto as the Emperor of China, striking a pose. Masashi has had a varied acting career but you may remember him as host of Channel 4’s Banzai!

Scott Maslen in Aladdin at The Marlowe Theatre. Press launch day.

Scott enjoying the glitter storm.

Ben Roddy in Aladdin at The Marlowe Theatre Canterbury 2014. Press launch day.

Ben really enjoying the glitter storm…

Christine Allado in Aaddin at The Marlowe Theatre 2014. Press launch day.

A happy end to the day for Christine Allado (Princess Jasmine) and Paul Hendy.

Ben Roddy in Aladdin at The Marlowe Theatre 2014. Press launch day.

And a clumsy one for Ben.

Aladdin plays at The Marlowe Theatre from Friday 28 November – Sunday 11 January. All photos by Tim Stubbings.