Review: Aladdin *****

When thinking of the old Christmas favourite, you imagine being transported to the Orient. Not in the latest collaboration between director Gail McIntyre and playwright Mike Kenny you don't. Instead you find yourself in Kirkgate Market in Leeds – a stone's throw from the West Yorkshire Playhouse, where Aladdin is playing in the Courtyard.

Anyone who has attended any of the previous McIntyre and Kenny Christmas collaborations before will know what to expect.

There are no pantomime dames here, no principal boy or elaborate costumes or scenery. In fact, the pair are proud that their Christmas productions are often described as an antidote to pantomime.

Instead they follow their winning formula of stripping the story back to its original message, in this case that possessions don't bring happiness.

Using a small talented cast of actor/musicians and minimal but effective scenery they stimulate the imagination of their young (and old) audience alike. Aladdin is aimed at the over-fours – but people of any age will find this production a delight.

That is not to say that there is no audience participation – there is plenty of flag waving, dancing and no shortage of booing at the brilliant "baddie" played by Simon Kerrigan – it just means the priority is shifted from the slapstick in favour of the message. It works wonderfully.

There are some old and new faces in the six-strong cast. Aladdin is played by Gregory Bartlett who brings his adept circus skills to the role, at one point hopping aboard a unicycle and at another hanging upside down from a metal bridge which spans the stage as he is lowered into the cave.

The set, designed by Barney George, might be simple but I audibly heard my seven-year-old gasp as Aladdin and his "uncle" discovered the hidden trap door to the cave and "smoke" billowed out.

It's the skilled used of puppetry which also marks this show out from other children's productions, not least when the Genie (accordion-playing Rew Lowe) unfurls his turban to become the magic carpet for puppet Aladdin and his mother to fly upon.

These theatrical devices are what makes this production work on so many levels.

The music is key to any McIntyre/Kenny production and once again the star of the show is Ivan Stott.

As well as an hilarious cameo as the broad Yorkshire/Texan Sultan, he is the musical director, composer and sound designer, making pots and pans and even the metal bridge sound magical.

Katie Matthews as Aladdin's mum is adept at getting the right balance between cynical down-trodden washerwoman and loving mother, while Jenny Fitzpatrick creates a believable spoiled Princess who in the end too realizes that possessions aren't the route to true happiness in the end.

This is another winner for the Courtyard and for McIntyre and Kenny – long may the collaboration continue.

To January 15.

West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds