Whenever I used to review live theatre in places such as the Wales Millennium Centre, New Theatre and St David’s Hall etc I would always take my Aunty as since I can remember we always used to see live entertainment together. What started with watching a local wrestling show has evolved into seeing a range of musicals and plays together which is always great fun. We decided last year that we wanted to visit the Edinburgh Fringe festival (she has been before but I have not) we planned where we would stay, our strategy of tackling the festival and started to talk about the shows we wanted to see. However, Covid quickly put a stop to our ideas as we were no longer able to travel abroad. The silver lining to all this however is that due to the festival not being able to go ahead like it usually does, many of the productions are now going to be streamed online (and while I am aware it’s not the same as physically going to the event but it’s a close second!) which means we can now watch some of the shows from the comfort of our own homes. For those who don’t know the fringe is a big event that showcases now pieces of theatre, comedy, musicals etc and is popular for more edgy or satirical pieces of work. A little while ago I reviewed the cast recording of ‘Unfortunate: The untold story of Ursula’ which was a musical parody which talked about the origin story iconic sea witch from the little mermaid (if that sounds interesting to you, you can read my thoughts on it at https://rhysreviews.com/2020/04/26/unfortunate-soundtrack-review/) and in fact Ursula does make an appearance in this musical but more on that later.
The production we are looking at this time is ‘Twisted’ which is almost the original story of Jafar from Aladin which is also a comedy parody. The point of these types of musicals is for the audience to create a new sense of empathy towards these iconic villains and to be honest both of them did this incredibly successfully! I would have to say that ‘Twisted’ is one of the most cleverly written musicals that I have seen in a long time due to the inclusion of iconic quotes/ideas from the original Disney film ‘Aladin.’ We had jokes about how the film is supposed to be set in Agrabah which is supposed to be in an Arabian dessert yet all of the characters are white which is a big issue Disney are battling with at the moment, we had a callback to lyrics from the original songs where a guard states that Aladin is “always one step ahead of us” among others. Always this is a fantastic musical for people who love musical theatre as there are many references to other shows. Within the opening scene, We heard a parody of the opening number “Belle” which is from the musical Beauty and the Beast (which is thought was hilarious), within this song Jafar shared some jokes about reading the novel wicked, later in the musical we have a parody of “Part of your world” from the little mermaid and the show ends with the classic Wicked riff which helps tie the entire show together which is amazing! This alongside the constant strong language means that the show is meant for a more mature audience as they would understand the hidden references. Disney is known for being family-friendly and so it always amazes me when companies adapt their work to be for another audience. However, the show still keeps the idea of pantomime and the over-the-top-ness of Disney at the centre of the show as we have many songs, brilliant comedy and a few moments where the actors break the fourth wall to talk to the audience.
I am always amazed by production that requires their cast members to play multiple roles within one show. The performers involved in ‘Twisted’ had to swap roles numerous times within the production to play different characters which shows off their acting abilities (which I personally would not be able to do!) I thought that the casting of Aladin within the musical was perfect. Conor Hadley who took on the role was the perfect combination of being the classic cheeky, boyish ruffian we all know from the original film (which is only exaggerated on this production) with the more extreme elements that this show wanted to embed into the character. He is clearly a very talented vocalist and delivered some very brilliant and hilarious performances! Molly Hewitt-Rochard’s played the version of princess Jasmin very well with an almost sassier portrayal than she previously had. She is also a very talented singer as her duets with Conor were amazing to listen to! My one concern about this character however is the fact that she brings up some very real-life issues such as the importance of feminism, equal rights and the treatment at sweatshops but in the next breath goes back into the classic bratty teenager trope which does diminish some of the impacts of these real and current issues. The role of the captain is not that well known and so it allows performers to take this role and make it their own. Ben Payne took a much more awkward lean onto the character with an incredibly dry sense of humour. At one point they were discussing being sacked and the captain said “sacked – we put them into a burlap sack and beat them” and instantly moved onto the next line without any signs of being tickled by the joke which was brilliant! I also really enjoyed the portrayal of the genie within this production which was played by Andrew Buxton. We got the classic pop culture reference that Robin Williams (RIP) popularised in this role but also was very similar to the Hollywood blue genie from WWF.
Obviously, the highlight in this show was Jafar who was played by the talented Eòin Callaghan. It must have been very daunting to taking on this character who is universally despised but having to try and make the audience feel sorry for them, but Eòin seemed to handle this with ease. Not only did they looked exactly like the character but also delivered the more sincere moments excellently. The song “If I believed in wishes” was perfectly performed by Jafar and was very moving which had me feeling sorry for the character which is something I would never have thought would have been possible before watching this show. He also managed to do the bigger spectacle style numbers well with the song “The Golden Rule” being beautifully performed with a more classically theatrical and cheesy vibe to the number. Eòin’s performance was so good that I now feel compelled to re-watch Aladin and see if my feelings towards Jafar have changed. My favourite number in the entire musical however would have to be the titular song “twisted” which had a series of Disney villains (including Ursula, Scar, Gaston etc) appear to talk about how they are misunderstood with the musical motifs matching the character in the spotlight which again was wonderfully clever.
Overall, this is a new musical that fulfils its purpose of changing the audience’s perspective on the iconic villain Jafar and even managed to create a sense of sympathy towards the character which I could never have thought would have been possible! It titters on the edge of an adult pantomime with some very comedic songs and would be perfect for musical theatre fans! I would rate this production 4 out of 5 stars!