Hills Youth Theatre
Stirling Community Theatre
Until 19 Jan 2020

Review by Sarah Westgarth

Making theatre for children is a challenge. Making theatre with children is a challenge. Hills Youth Theatre have combined these two goals, as they do with their big January shows, in their latest offering of ‘The Story of Aladdin’. This familiar, fun story is presented with lots of bright costumes, an assortment of colourful characters, and lots of enthusiasm and hard work from its cast. There are some delightful moments throughout, and it'll be wonderful to see a lot of these actors develop as performers as they gain more experience.

Based on a 1999 panto script by Joan Leslie, and adapted by director Sonja Zodrow for the HYT students, it’s clear this show has been a labour of love for the whole team. The production as a whole is not quite as engaging as it wants to be, with an overly long runtime and mostly dialogue-heavy scenes, but the show does give each member of their huge young cast a moment in the spotlight, which is lovely. This does contribute to the length of the show—there’s no need for it to be two acts—which at over two hours is a struggle, particularly for the younger members of the audience.

With a lack of lively action, the show tends to drag a little, and some of the more interesting parts of the story, including the moment where Aladdin finds the lamp and frees the Genie, happen offstage. The Genie himself doesn't appear until Act 2, and then is quite underused, which is a shame because Luka Bolte is doing some really interesting and fun work with the character. The rest of the cast are trying hard, but their inexperience does show. It would have been good for them to have some amplification, as several of the lines get lost. The characters that provide some of the comic relief, such as Nakhita Lanyon as the servant Hachim and Demelza Metha as the Guard Zahir, were crowd favourites; more of these energetic and lighter moments would have been welcome.

The set looks amazing, especially the market place. The scene changes do take some time, though it’s wonderful to see the cast helping with these transitions. It's clear the production team have worked hard to make sure every member of the ensemble knows what they need to be doing at all times, which is no mean feat given the cast count is around eighty! The work HYT do is so important, and while this show is not one of their stronger offerings, it’s clear how much thought and passion, from both the cast and crew, goes into a production like this. A valuable experience for all involved.