Baking: No-bake Rum ’n’ Raisin Choc Coconut Slice

Chocolate, coconut, rum, raisins, chocolate digestives, can’t be all that bad? Can they? There’s wheat and fruit in there. They count for something, surely. After a few of these rum ’n’ raisin slices, with coffee as one does, I was ready to curl up in front of the heater and doze off. 

Here’s the recipe:

Base
1 3/4 packs chocolate McVities (400g each pack), crushed finely
3 cups dessicated coconut, plus extra
1 cup raisins, covered and soaked in rum / Captain Morgan Spiced
1/3 cup cocoa
1 block chocolate / Cadbury’s Old Gold Rum ’n’ Raisin (200g), melted 
100g butter, melted
1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk
1 egg
2 tsp cinnamon

Melt butter and condensed milk and stir through thoroughly. While warm beat in the egg and continue to heat until all combined. The mixture should be quite hot. Add in the cinnamon, melted chocolate block and cocoa. 

Add the crushed biscuits, dessicated coconut, raisins and any unabsorbed rum from the raisins. Ensure all combined. The mix will be fairly stiff. Press into a lined slice tin and set aside to refrigerate.

Rum Icing
2 cups icing sugar
50 g butter
4 tbps rum 
sprinkle of cinnamon

Cream butter and sugar until white. Add in rum. Mix together. Sprinkle over cinnamon. Once the slice has set, an hour in the fridge should do it, spread the rum icing over the top. Slice.

The best thing about these slices is the icing, and biting into popping, plumped up raisins. 

They will be raisin’ the bar on y’r arrrf-ternoon. 

But be warned, they are dense and they’ll put a rose in your cheek. If you’re like me, they’ll leave you looking like a giddy schoolgirl with a crush for the next half-hour—or shall I say, rocking the scarlet glow of the Orient.

Best served with an arrrtfully corny pirate joke (if that isn’t an oxymoron), and something like a cuppa, reminiscent of the ‘c’. 

Aye, do try these, you’ll be hooked.

Writing: In the Detail

This writing short is of an encounter with a charity representative on the Friday after work. It got me thinking and it got me Googling. It was an unusual, if not strange, encounter so I thought I’d write something. I hope the guy I spoke to was genuine. I do believe he was.

On the back of a late night Jarrah Hot Choc ☕ is this story. #suddenlyinspired

**

In the Detail

I have never understood how you’re supposed to sign away your details on spending five minutes with a charity sales representative.

This Friday afternoon walking in the opposite direction of a hospital, after staring at spreadsheets all day, I was stopped by a guy dressed in a white lab coat. He waved me down. I thought he needed help. Turned out he wanted to show me a packet of something.

‘Take a look at this,’ he said. He had light brown hair, pale skin, and rosy cheeks. He was pretty enough to be a member of a boy band.

He handed me a packet of powder. I’m not sure how he did. The exchange was seamless. 

I suppose I was distracted, trying to figure out which boy band he could be a pseudo member of. He had a bit of Alex Band from The Calling going for him. Maybe a touch of Kian Egan from Westlife? Mixed with Take That’s Gary Barlow, a younger version perhaps? I’ve put too much thought into this.

My naïve brain jumped at the thought: ‘He’s handed me something nefarious! Something illegal! He’s a dealer? I was expecting something a little more subtle? It’s no wonder school kids get caught up in this.’

I looked at the packet.

It said ‘Plumpy Nuts’. 

Not what I had been thinking. The incredulity of seconds ago vanished. In its place was a shred of intrigue. 

I decided against walking off. He had managed to get my attention. I’d spare a minute to hear him out.

‘What’s the number one killer of children?’ he asked.

‘Uh. Famine?’ 

‘Close. Diarrhoea,’ he advised before launching in to facts about the product in front of me. Nutritional information the live version was far more entertaining than reading off a cereal box.

He continued, ‘How much do you think one pack costs?’ 

It was like a ‘Who wants to be a Millionaire’ question, minus the million at stake, the multi-choice options, Eddie McGuire, Eddie McGuire asking what I do for a living, Eddie McGuire wanting to know my hobbies, my edge-of-your-seat lifelines.

I decided to reason out loud any way.

‘Well, they’re probably mass produced. You’re asking me, so it must be something ridiculous. Can’t be expensive. Probably really cheap.’ I paused, the silence an amplifying, dramatic effect, bugger I needed an adbreak, ‘Fifty-cents?’

‘Almost, you’re ten-cents off. They’re forty-cents. Imagine how many children could be fed with a monthly donation.’ 

Before I could let my imagination run wild, he reached for his iPad. It was here that the charity he represented was revealed. On the corner of the iPad screen was the logo: Médecins Sans Frontièrs. It was strange, he hadn’t mentioned it, nor was he wearing anything to identify himself as a representative of the charity, nor was his setup any kind of charity stall. Donations must have been down. There was just his backpack on the ground and a couple of boxes. There were no flyers or anything to remotely indicate he was a bona fide rep. There was nothing to suggest this wasn’t a scam. There were two of them. His colleague had the attention of another passerby. His colleague had grey hair. He could have been the boy band’s manager. The iPad screen was open to a sign up page. I noted at a glance it required the donor’s name, date of birth, and address. Why did they need a bunch of details straight up? It was a donation after all. Why did they require a date of birth?

He told me I could sign up today. I’d receive a free welcome pack to show my commitment to this program. That was supposed to convince me. 

I nodded slowly. Nodding would convey my acknowledgement, and combined with the relative pace of nodding, my reservation. I thought I was being subtle. 

The next two minutes did not go as he had planned. You see, he had lost me with the sign up page asking for too much too soon. It was time for me to get back on track. Quite literally: I had a train to catch.

‘Thanks for the information. That’s very interesting and I’ll certainly be Googling ‘Plumpy Nuts’, was it? That’s good work.’ I honestly wanted to Google it.

He closed the distance between us, encroaching but marginally missing the boundaries of personal space. ‘What’s stopping you from signing up today?’ 

‘Look, I’ll go on the website. I like doing my research,’ I replied.

‘Or you could just sign up today?’ he repeated inching the iPad closer. It looked like a real MSF page. That said nothing of the veracity of the page or the security of information entered.

‘I could, but I can always sign up on the website. Like I said, I’ll be Googling Plumpy Nuts,’ I said trying to best convey enthusiasm about the cause and uninterest in his.

‘You could sign up right now?’ he prompted again. There was a demand there. He’d made the question into a statement. 

‘I’ll go on the website,’ I said again. Unable to stop myself I added: ‘Also, I’m not exactly comfortable entering all my details right now into what really is a random iPad’. In hindsight, I should have just been honest and mentioned that dentist appointment I had been putting off, got around to booking, and was ‘Oh, would you look at the time?’ running late for. That, or the infinitely better options hindsight has divulged.

He took that as cue to state that it was in their terms and conditions to take privacy seriously. I’m not sure if it occurred that at this point my doubts were about him and his operation

Despite which, I did think he was being genuine. 

Even if he had appeared as legitimate as you could represent with these things, I’d still have gone with a click to the website. Research is fun, unlike wet socks. Or for that matter, getting scammed.

I made one more mention of the website to which he looked at me as if I was a freak. His face was screaming all things paranoid and tin-foil hat. He was taking this personally. What was my problem? 

The air was thick with non-verbal cussing. 

I’d implied there were issues with the legitimacy of his whole setup. I’d implied he might be a fraud. 

No boy band member likes to hear the truth. They were concerns nonetheless.

I’d tried subtlety. It hadn’t worked. 

‘Look mate, I’m going to be wasting your time. Nothing you say is going to make me sign up. Like I said, I like doing my research and the website will be there when I get on to Googling Plumpy Nuts. I appreciate the info. Cheerio.’ Blimey, I’d carried on with more indignance than intended. 

‘Okay,’ he said backing off. 

He returned to more non-verbalised cussing. 

He had gone from passionate to pushy to peeved in the space of five minutes. I’d repeated myself like a broken record.

The earbuds were back in as I walked to the station. 

I bookmarked the Wikipedia page to ‘Plumpy Nuts’ so I wouldn’t forget the name.

I changed my mind about him. He couldn’t be a pseudo member of any good boy band. He might’ve had the looks but, like everything, it was in the detail—and I hadn’t had to look far. He didn’t have the voice for it.

I hit shuffle. 

‘No Matter What’ came on for my listening pleasure. 

Dulcet tones told me: ‘No matter what they tell us. No matter what they do …. What we believe is true.’ 

Thanks Boyzone.

There’s a real message in that.

**

enchirist 2018

Beef Appreciation & Beef Pies: Marty’s Gourmet, Willetton and Jean Pierre Sancho, St Georges Terrace

The beef pie I had from Marty’s Gourmet was one of the best pies I’ve had this year. On second thoughts given most pies I’ve had have been the reheated frozen kind, a voice, of my subconscious in some American accent I’ve dreamt up, yells out: ‘that’s no yardstick!’

This pie was certainly better than a Four ’n’ Twenty.

It was a pie that could’ve worn proudly a badge reading​ ‘Grandma’s recipe’ or ‘like Grandma used to make’. For any aliens reading this, firstly I’m honoured you’ve stopped by my blog—I’m totally pro-extraterrestrial, in case you were wondering. Secondly, it’s kind of universally understood on our planet that Grandma’s or grandma-level something means amazingly-good. I feel compelled to add to that previous sentence: where baking’s concerned. Not if you’re talking computers. 

Grandmas are good at pie-making. That’s what the stereotypes tell me. Grannies have carved out a reputation for beautiful baking, and isn’t it just the most comforting imagery that comes to mind at the thought? I think hot goods seconds out of the oven and wondrous aromas wafting through the house. I think apple pies, luscious savouries, bellies finding themselves back in the kitchen right after a main meal. I think hot Milos with marshmallows on top. I think contented chatter amidst a backing of the songs playing on Curtin FM 100.1. I think cake crumbs, the only trace left of dessert.

I think it’s a great stereotype. I love the idea. 

I had ended up at Marty’s as I’d been feeling very under the weather. I had made a visit to the doctor’s, right across from the café. Rest and recuperation had unsurprisingly been in the dicta of the doctor’s orders and I’d decided that a pie for lunch might be a great start to meeting that second ‘r’. Wait what am I saying? The pie just looked so very tempting I was like a bee to honey.

The pie arrived. I sat there appreciating the creation in front of me. The elements of a pie and sauce were simple and inviting. 

With the hesitation of a kid at the cinema deciding between a popcorn upsize and an extra large frozen Coke, and eventually going for a pack of Smarties, I cut open the top.

Hidden under that golden pastry was a steaming filling with actual chunks of beef. Manageable, large, hack-sawed pieces of beef. Like pieces originally part of a giant slab of economy beef you’d buy at a place like Spudshed, glowing with unabashed pride at the bargain scored, only to spend a good hour at home, armed with a cleaver, splashing yourself with beef blood, in a mangled attempt to get even, mandibular-ly-agreeable portions, all the while keeping admirable goals of awesome chunky beef dishes in mind. 

A lot to swallow? I’d agree.

The beef sat in a highly viscous sauce, a rich peppery concoction smacking of garlic, onion, a generous splashing of the Worcestershire, gravy cubes—best guess, there was salt from something, and a fair shake of the tomato sauce bottle (a phrase that reminds me of the former Prime Minister responsible for bamboozling us with that beauty: ‘detailed programmatic specificity’). 

The sauce was thick, and held together without soaking through the pastry bottom. 

The crust was a good puff pastry, cooked ’til golden, flakey, and soft. With the chunky beef,  sauce and puffy pastry, let me say this was amazing.

And here she is:

I also went with a mocha; it was so-so. The pie and mocha came to $10.30. 

My journey into pies continued two mornings later. I was running late on my clock—early in another universe, of course—and I was running on empty. I needed a coffee. Spying a coffee and pie deal for $9.95, I stopped and convinced myself I could do with an expensive coffee $9.95, and a bonus pie. 

The pie had employed unscrupulous tactics to make its way into my life. It had coupled itself with coffee. It knew that, like pastry, resistance​ would crumble. 

It was a pie loaded with a free serve of denial and I had lost the fight.

I sculled the coffee; JP’s do a great one. Pie in hand, I finally arrived at my desk. I went to zap my now not-extra-hot-but-still-hot pie.

‘Morning!’ came the unfamiliar voice of a man in a crisp blue uniform. He was from the other Division. The communal kitchen had a not-so-uncanny way of bringing people together and forcing conversation. 

‘Hey there, morning,’ I said doing an awkward shuffle past him, hoping I wouldn’t stack myself and send the pie flying. I seem to have greater than average odds when it comes to dropping things, which in my plentiful experience generally makes awkward​ situations worse. Stepping into the small kitchen had increased​ my odds.

‘What’s that? Early lunch?’ he said reaching for the milk. I noticed the tomato sauce in the fridge behind him. It might as well have been unobtainium.

‘Nah, just a snack,’ I said with a twinge of immediate regret. He was having a cuppa and a muesli bar like a normal person. I’d already finished a coffee and I was preparing to stuff my face with pie.

‘You can’t have snacks without bringing us all some!’ he exclaimed with a hearty smile.  

The beeping of the microwave, the half-awkward laughter where I managed to squeeze in a ‘yeah’, ‘sure’, ‘cool’ and multiple other filler words was the rest of our conversation. By the powers of the small kitchen, there will hopefully be future opportunities to undo this trainwreck of a ‘hello’.

For now, it was time to test out this pie.

They had included the complimentary, non-obligatory salad element. Mesclun, straight out of the Woolies pre-packs. It was a nice touch.

Inside the pie was a saucy mince meat that had a more commercial gravy taste to it. I would be mincing my words if I said this wasn’t good and I didn’t enjoy it as much as I did. The pie was very juicy. It made for a very moist experience, and I was sure it wasn’t the microwaving that had done it. I’d picked it up prior and still it had felt like a frail beast. The pastry​ was more a shortcrust than a puff. It was awfully soft. It was also very yellow.

Who reigns supreme? Both were tasty pies. One was just beautiful and chunky and delicious. The Marty’s Pie takes this round.

Taste verdict Pleasing pies aplenty.
1: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
2: ⭐⭐⭐

**

In the midst of composing the above, in the wee hours of the morning, I had this paragraph on beef chunks. I was thinking about the chunky beef in the Marty’s pie and my thoughts meandered, in and out, and over and over, on the whys of beef as a product of deliciousness. (And no, while it would have been a nice excuse for staying up to write prose about beef, I hadn’t been drinking).

Beef, of all types, is wonderful. 

Tearing through it is animalistic and raw. 

Cathartic on a primal level.

Ravenous and impatient are those awaiting steak on the barbie.

Understandably awake and discontent is the bloke who had only salad for dinner.

Voracious are the appetites red meat inspires. 

Flesh makes lions of us all, bringing out pure instinct at the sight. 

It’s evidence​ that maybe we’re all just animals. Well, animals in clothes.

Beef isn’t elitist.

Wagyu, marbled, aged, Porterhouse are desirable attributes​. But in the realm of pies, stews, and everything saucy, it’s chunky beef all the way.

Chunky beef reminds you that you’re not eating beef that’s been stitched together. Or minced to the point of no return. Or that bears a label with its percentage of beef content, because clearly that was considered necessary.

Forgive the beef spiel.

I’m an omnivore with hardcore carnivorous tendencies. 

I’m chewing on starting my own Beef Appreciation Society.

**

enchirist 2018

Writing: The Playground 

To me, this is almost non-fiction because a great deal of it is true and happened. I tried to style this in a way where the age of the writer, their voice on the page, is ambiguous, indeterminate. 

Well, that was my intent, any way. 

I hope my fellow nine-year-old, as we were in this story, is doing well.

I have fond memories of childhood. It was a time of learning, growing up, and finding your way. It brings back memories of simpler times. Some of that I have tried to channel with this piece.

As an aside, I continue my quest for spirit appreciation with pay day bringing to the palate: Canadian Club Whiskey. I’m finding it quite plain. Mixing it with Coca-Cola, which I unfortunately didn’t have on me, I’ll have to try.

On the back of CCW, is this story. #suddenlyinspired

***

The Playground

We were two nine-year-olds in the playground.

She was angry at life. Her mother had died and it was her first day back at school.

Unsure, avoided glances in the corridors assured her that they knew. Whispers from the staff room trickled down to hushed morning discussions at the drink fountain.

It was a car crash.

There were questions they wanted to ask. Questions that they knew were out of bounds. It was an unwritten rule, and much like the out of bounds area that only year fives and above were allowed in, you weren’t meant to broach these things.

How did it happen?

Who was making her lunches now that her mum was gone?

Who was dropping​ her off to school?

What was it like not having a mum?

How was she feeling? 

Was she sad?

Did she need a hug?

**

We were hanging out in our usual spot. The spot by the sandpit with the monkey bars, and the log roll, and those chains wrapped in tyre material you could spin around on until you got dizzy. Some kids were good at doing a lot of spins. 

Today was no different to any other day. I got on with balancing on the log roll, and occasionally climbing on top of the rail. It was more fun to use playground equipment as it wasn’t designed. She was sitting in the sand digging shallow holes and refilling them with sand. We sometimes buried our change from buying ice-creams in the sand, wondering if someone would find them. It was usually the twenty-cents we hid. Garlic bread at the canteen was twenty-cents. Someone would be really lucky. A pile of twenty-cents would buy a lot of garlic bread. Or Nutella breads. They were fifteen cents. I think garlic bread was more popular.

I asked her how she was going. She was okay. 

She asked me how I was. I was okay. I told her it had been a while since I had seen her. She agreed.

Conversation was sporadic. I talked a lot more than her today. What she shared, was whatever she wanted to, and vice-versa. It had kind of always been like that. 

I’m not sure if pressure is the right word, but if it were, there never was any. 

Being an active listener was a difficult job. You had to be quiet and listen to someone else’s thoughts. You had to think about what they were talking about. You had to have empathy and compassion, and you learned not to judge. You got to hear them. I don’t think I’ve met anyone since who understood things quite like she did.

I asked her if she was okay with being back. She said she was. 

I asked her about things that weren’t the kind I thought she would be asked.

She told me Jasper still liked sitting under her dad’s car. 

No, she didn’t take him for walks.

She told me they had Chicken Treat for dinner the night before. 

No, she hadn’t wanted the sweet and sour pork with special fried rice from Amelia Li’s. Li’s was in the town shopping centre. I usually bought one spring roll from them after I went in for a look at the snack aisle at Woolies.

Yes, she had thought about Bruno’s Fish and Chips.

We both thought takeaway was special because it was a sometimes thing. It was even more special because Chicken Treat was the only real fast food place in town. 

We both agreed that the smell of yummy food, takeaway fried chicken especially, would make you hungry, when it was almost mealtime and you had already raided the fridge. It would be bad if you had eaten two Vegemite sandwiches for lunch and you didn’t have room.

Food journeys had consistently been a topic of discussion between us, if a little one-sided at times.

I was glad she didn’t mind the questions I asked— food, or otherwise. 

They were banal.

No, she hadn’t been watching the shows on ABC from three to five in the afternoon. She did watch Toasted TV some mornings. It had been pretty boring lately.

Yes, she had played basketball on the weekend. She was good at it. Her cousins had forced her to but. They ended up doing practice shots only. She told me it had been good to get out in the sun. 

I had always liked when she told me about what she did. They were like little gems of detail, unique in their own way. I liked hearing about life outside of the uniform.

She asked me about what I had been up to. I talked way, way more than she did.

I had been riding my bike after school. I would zip around the backyard as fast as I could. We had dug these massive holes in the dirt. They were about half a bucket deep. We ran the hose until they were full of water and the dirt was all muddy. It was our backyard BMX trail and we would ride our bikes over the holes, like obstacles you had to pass. It was hours of fun. Then we would have to hose our bikes down because they got very grubby. We would cover our bikes in blue tarpaulin and lock them to the security grills on our bedroom windows to make sure no one stole them.

I told her about the most fun thing I’d done: rides on our washing line. It was an old steel Hills Hoist. I would hang on to one of poles that formed the line’s cross-shape and push off the ground. I’d spin around so fast on the washing line, it was like flying. I would do little running take-offs as the spinning slowed, and then I’d be flying again. It was the best thing ever.

We talked about awesome rides. We decided if theme park rides ever came to town we would eat fairy floss and do all the crazy ones, the ones everyone would be scared of going on. They would be the most thrilling. The Street Party was the annual town event when the streets at the whole centre of town were closed off for one big event with food and music stalls, and rides. It was at Christmas time, ages away. I’d seen the rides but never gone. They looked like scary rides. We could start with those. She thought that would be a good idea.

**

She paused and walked over to the monkey bars. 

She told me that it was different.

She missed doing stuff. She missed stuff. Her aunty had been helping out at home, taking care of little things like meals and washing. They weren’t really little things. Her aunty had taken her out a few times. 

Things at home when it was just them were hard.

They were lost without her.

She woke up some days disbelieving. It wasn’t real. It was a bad dream. 

Silence punctuated her thoughts.

Her eyes were dry as she spoke. They were eyes searching​ for answers. She hid her sadness. She was frustrated. She didn’t want this to have happened. She was angry that it had happened. Then she was resigned that it had. Then she was angry. Then it was not real. Then it was.

Where was fairness? Why?

Why did it have to be her? She told me that was constantly in her thoughts.

I didn’t know what to say that would be consoling. How could anyone console someone who’d lost their mother? Was that even possible? Even grown-ups would struggle with it. I recall awkwardly telling her that I didn’t know what to say but I would be there for her. I moved to sit next to her on the monkey bars. I told her if I could help in anyway she could tell me, and I would. She nodded.  

She returned to the sand and we were quiet for a bit. It was a reflective, comfortable, okay silence.

She dug a bit more in the sand. 

She looked up and smiled. Her eyes barely crinkled and her lips barely moved, but there was the tiniest hint of a smile. I hoped maybe it meant she was feeling a tiny bit better in this moment or at least that she was okay sharing that with me.

I guess in a way it told me she was resilient. Things would not always be okay, but she would be okay. 

From everyone around her, she needed their acceptance not curiosity. 

She needed company not words.

I would try to do that. I just felt useless at it. 

She laid back on the sand.

She told me she had forgotten​ to mention the chips from Chicken Treat. Sharing our chip-trying escapades was one of the things we did. The chips had been hot and crispy which was good because sometimes if you went at dinner time and they were busy you could get rushed chips. They could be soggy and oily or burnt. She would have given them to Jasper if they had been. It was good to know.

I went over to the sand and threw off my shoes, and wriggled my feet into the sand. It was nice and cool.

I remember that it was a hot day. We had our hats. It was lucky that we had both remembered them or we might have been stuck in that esky of an undercover area. Or worse, it was such a nice day we might have overlooked the dangers of borrowing from the spare hats basket. 

The siren rang. ‘Eeeeer. Eeeeer.’ It was a strange siren, our school siren.

Lunchtimes always felt like an eternity. It was sad when they came to an end. We walked back to our class. We both agreed we weren’t looking forward to silent reading. At least there was library in the afternoon, which meant going on the computers to do ICT work then having free time that was either spent playing computer games or doing actual reading. Most kids didn’t choose reading.

As we walked back to class, she put her hand on my shoulder. 

‘That was a bit fun you know. Not really like old times but I would eventually have had to be back.’

‘I’m glad. Peyton, let’s hang out after school, if you’re okay to.’

‘I am,’ she nodded, ‘Where?’

‘How about, the washing line? 

Line up, line up to be spun around on the highest spin cycle in the ride of the century,’ I said in the best gameshow host impersonation I could do.

She looked at me with raised eyes, the puns well and truly sinking in. She sighed with a look like she had given up on me as a friend.

‘You know, I’m not okay to be back. That was the worst thing I’ve heard from anyone today,’ she said half-exasperated, half-serious, and half-amused, if it were possible to be all at the same time. Maths was never my strong point. 

I couldn’t help but smile. 

I’d spent lunch asking lame questions about her dinners, and now I’d gone and dropped washing line puns in the hopes of getting her spirits up. 

Somehow, I think we were both okay with that.

Two-player Miniclip online games would be alright this afternoon.

***

© enchirist

Review: Aladdin the Musical at Crown Theatre

Over a month ago in late June, I was browsing Ticketmaster and saw the Aladdin stage production upcoming. Tickets, I had to get. 

It had been a long time since I had attended a musical. The last had been Fiddler on the Roof, featuring original cast member Topol playing the lead, Tevye. That would have been going back a number of years—actually, I’ve Googled it: 2007 the show was in town. Has time flown or has time flown.

This quote by CS Lewis comes to mind:

Isn’t it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when you look back everything is different.

Clive had that right. Everything is different. 

But I digress.

We saw Aladdin on the Saturday in the week just past. The posters all over the place at the moment give nothing away. The set, the cast, the costumes, the performance are far more fantastical and fabulous than you’d imagine! 

I’d booked us almost-centre seats in row D. They were right up near the stage, and we had a great view. This was the first time I’d been close enough to the stage to see—and therein fully appreciate (read: sit there bedazzled by all that glitter and all those Swarovski crystals)—the expressions of the performers and intricacies of the set. The proximity from the stage made a massive difference. 

I had to applaud the incredible effort to bring Aladdin to the stage. From the musicality, the performances, the energy of the performers, the polished transitions between acts, costumes, and sets, and the spectacular outfits, the entire two hours delivered a full-throttle stageshow as colourful and as busy as the streets of Agrabah. 

The Australian cast were excellent. Gareth Jacobs nailed his role as the Genie. He brought the Genie to life with sass and high intensity performances. Jacobs had the X Factor. He was a natural at working in his own stamp on the role, while at all times remaining true to the iconic character, made famous by Robin Williams. 

I loved the Broadway-born production’s localisation of Aladdin for the Aussie crowd. This was mainly through humourous quips from Jacobs, who succeeded at seemlessly incorporating Tim-Tams, Vegemite, and at one point Kwinana, into the Genie’s dialogue.

Ainsley Melham showed his versatility and prowess as a performer playing the role of Aladdin. He brought to the role a sense of believability and realness. Melham drew us in from the outset, leading us to suspend reality and immerse ourselves into the world of Aladdin.

In many of his performances, seasoned ex-Hi 5 professional Melham seemed to take the back seat to the roles of his co-stars, though not for want of enthusiasm or energy. Rather, it seemed to be a creative direction to give the other performers time in the spotlight. I initially questioned whether Melham was completely encompassing his leading man role—was he being overshadowed? I then realised that this was great positioning of the audience. It worked brilliantly.

As a viewer, it assisted with the characterisation of Aladdin as a pretty average guy. Aladdin was content being out of the spotlight. With his reputation as a street rat, perhaps he was even trying to avoid it. He wasn’t out for the gold or glitter. He hadn’t been born with a silver spoon in his mouth. His crime was falling for a princess. 

While there were plenty of elaborate scenes and visually stunning sets, there were also reeled back moments. With the bells and whistles dropped and the extravagance toned down, it was the magic of the timeless tale that captured our attention. This played on the very human desires for freedom, acceptance, and love. Desires we can all identify with.

Clever framing of the performances, showed us that Melham’s Aladdin wasn’t royalty in every scene he was in; he was simply another cast member. We saw that Aladdin wasn’t after fame or fortune. He was humble. His motivations were pure. He wanted to make his late mother proud. It wasn’t Princess Jasmine he’d fallen for, but Jasmine. Echoing the words of Jafar and Iago, the naivety and rawness Melham depicted confirmed to us that Aladdin was indeed a ‘diamond in the rough’. Humility and truth, and love conquering all, flowed through Melham’s performances.

Shrubshri Kandiah impressed with her portrayal of Jasmine. From Kandiah, we saw that having riches doesn’t equate to a life of freedom and happiness. Kandiah’s Jasmine was fiesty, confident and frustrated with her lack of agency in a clearly patriarchal society. Kandiah’s performance gave us a strong sense of Jasmine as an empowered, modern woman, unafraid to stand for her beliefs, and willing to break tradition. Outspoken and opinionated, she rejected the princess stereotype. Her appearances instead wove in themes of equity and change. She asked us to question cultural norms, the validity of law, and to have courage not to accept the status-quo. The laws of the land being changed, decried as outdated as a result of Jasmine’s refusal to bend to tradition, was vindication that change was possible. 

The weakest moment was unfortunately the song that should have been the apogee of the show: Aladdin and Jasmine’s duet ‘A Whole New World’. The singing sounded a little off key, the ‘magic carpet’ paled in comparison to what we’d already seen, and the build up to the moment fell short. The song lacked the richness in voice, feeling and chemistry of the original. While they had rubbed us the wrong way with this one, they hadn’t ruined the emphatic Aladdin classic.

Overall, it was a fantastic show and a very enjoyable night. I would highly​ recommend it just for the experience. It was totally worth the dollarydoos. 

My biggest take-away was the joy the cast displayed throughout the show. These talented ladies and gents seemed so genuinely happy it was infectious! To be able to entertain, to make people happy, to do that for a living, I don’t think many things would compare.

Now I just need to find that magic lamp.