Gauche, perhaps, to complain about Aladdin but it slightly deserves it. The terrific Genie opens the show and then disappears for 45 minutes while the plot is explained. My squirmy ten-year-old kept whispering Aladdin-related trivia at me in order to occupy himself as the rags-to-riches storyline was laid out in far too much detail. Visually the show is impressive, despite minor flaws. The rangy architectural sets are intricate confections of teetering filigree but they look a little factory-fresh and unlived-in. Behind them the daylight skies are wrongly composed of a single hue (only the night sky has a single hue).
Aladdin is played by Dean John-Wilson, a cocky slab of tanned muscle, whose reluctance to shine in the part cedes the limelight to Princess Jasmine (Jade Ewen, an absolute knockout). She plays the truculent royal as a gobby campus activist who claims the right to choose her husband and rule as his equal. This role will be the making of Ewen, a newcomer to the West End. She’s supported by a retinue of semi-naked dancers who are so attractive they ought to be arrested (and in the parts of the world where the tale is set they probably would be).
Once the action moves to Aladdin’s cave, the show enters a new realm of fun, excitement and drama. The story begins at long last: Aladdin must use the Genie’s magic to win love for himself and liberty for his benefactor. The amazing cave, designed by Bob Crowley, seems almost to be alive. Layer upon layer of sumptuous colour and light appear to recede in a glittering cascade from the zenith of the proscenium arch to the farthest reaches of the rear wall. Rarely have six wooden flats and a coating of Dulux been deployed to such dazzling effect. And the Genie is back. The Genie! Trevor Dion Nicholas, from Virginia, lays on a masterclass in charisma. He’s like an entire travelling circus crammed into the body of a capering athlete, and he pitches his merriment at just below the level of out-and-out zaniness. Even with his bald skull smothered in glitter he seems to be holding something back. Irvine Iqbal makes a sonorous and creamily smooth Sultan and Stephen Rahman-Hughes is the best of Aladdin’s urchin friends. (Could he not take the lead once in a while?) A couple of oddly underpowered baddies seem to have turned up at the wrong show.
This isn’t a cheesy panto but a super-slick Hollywood co-production. Aladdin isn’t cheap, by the way. A pair in the stalls will lighten your estate by £200. Aim for a thriftier perch at higher altitude. You won’t miss a thing up there. The show — like the Genie — is massive.
Minefield is am-dram and all the better for it. A troupe of Falklands veterans, both Brit and Argie, have made a documentary from their battle memories supported by photos, TV clips and music. For historians it’s a must. The Argentines were tough young conscripts eager to retake an archipelago whose ownership they had celebrated in song, at morning assembly, from their earliest schooldays (a rite that continues even now, which suggests that this tiff isn’t over). Their officers were cynical bunglers who ordered their men to cross fields already mined by their comrades. The Argentines’ greatest fear was the Gurkhas, who were rumoured to decapitate their prisoners and dine on their severed ears. After their defeat, the starved men were fattened up for three days before being returned to their families.
The show doesn’t flinch from the more sordid truths. Bursts of hatred and anger are allowed to flash briefly between the former foes. British servicemen admit to rejoicing when the Belgrano went down. So what if it lay beyond the 200-mile exclusion zone and its sharp end was pointed homewards? It wasn’t a hospital ship commanded by Mother Teresa; it was there to hunt and kill. A middle-aged British soldier shows us a 1990s TV clip in which he weeps for a comrade who died in his arms. He apologises and says the footage still causes him shame. Not because grief is unmanly but because the victim was Argentinian.
The show’s artless and slightly clumsy arrangement reinforces its sense of authenticity. But it occasionally strays into sentimental territory. Four of the Argentines have formed a Beatles tribute band and they claim to receive a warm welcome wherever they appear in Britain. Such gushy touches may have contributed to the mood of self-delusion that gripped the crowd at the final curtain. They leapt to their feet and whooped with joy and relief as if they’d just witnessed a signing of a lasting truce. They hadn’t. Those rocks are still up for grabs.