x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Young would-be thespians try for a spot in 'Aladdin'

A British theatre group is selecting local actors for roles in a production of a new take on the story of Aladdin as a pantomime set in Beijing.

Children dance during the open auditions for the annual Christmas pantomime show at Souq Madinat Jumeirah's First Group Theatre.
Children dance during the open auditions for the annual Christmas pantomime show at Souq Madinat Jumeirah's First Group Theatre.

DUBAI // Andrea Khoury was nervous as she walked onto the stage.

"I have butterflies in my stomach," she said. "Most of the girls are doing the splits and cartwheels and I can't do that. The only reason I came is because my best friend promised to audition with me." 

The 10-year-old was among the dozens who turned out yesterday to audition for a part in Aladdin. The traditional British show, based on a Middle Eastern folk tale, tells the story of a young peasant boy who is tricked by an evil sorcerer into retrieving a magic lamp from a mysterious cave.

When residents heard that producers H2 Organisation Limited would be in town to pick 16 cast members, they flocked to the theatre, eager to be part of a story that became one of Disney's most successful animated movies. Graham Fawcett, the British director behind at least four previous Christmas productions in Dubai, including Sleeping Beauty, Snow White and Cinderella, said that while the UAE theatre scene was growing, a shortage of suitable venues persists.

"The first year, we had 40 or 50 kids audition, last year it increased to almost 80, and today the numbers were already up an hour before the auditions started," he said. "There is clearly a need and an interest." 

For Andrea, a 10-year-old who is half American and half Jordanian, it was her first audition. She came with her mother, Stephanie. "She has only been in dance for one year and doesn't have a lot of experience, but we decided to come and see what it's like," said Mrs Khoury.

The show's choreographer, Louisa Allen, who lives in Dubai, said theatre in the emirate has steadily improved in recent years. "We can now resource from Dubai, so the professional scene is getting huge," she said. "This is a traditional British pantomime with a script that works for local people. It is town-specific, and so we throw in lines, gags and place names to make it a local show." "Our Aladdin isn't actually set in the Middle East, it's set in Beijing," said Mr Fawcett.

When British pantomimes were popularised hundreds of years ago the most familiar Eastern country was China, he explained. "By moving completely away from the original story, which here is known as the Arabian Nights tale, I don't think we will offend anyone," he added. "Kids love a good story. You've got to capture their imagination. When you are on stage, in theory you are in a far-away land." 

Leah Fakhuri, who is from the US, came with her family in support of her seven-year-old daughter, Sophia, who is also auditioning for the first time.

"The drama scene here is catching up, and Sophia loves the idea of being on stage," she said. Aladdin runs at the First Group Theatre in the Souk Madinat Jumeirah from December 22 through December 31. 

melshoush@thenational.ae