Arts

Does Rhydian want to rule the universe, boys and girls? Oh yes, he does

It's panto season – oh yes, it is – and with the family festive mayhem starting or already under way on stages all over the north, Jenny Lee caught up with Aladdin star Rhydian Roberts for a flavour of what's in store

Aladdin is coming to SSE Arena Belfast for the first time this December, with former X-Factor star Rhydian playing the evil magician Abanazar

BELFAST'S SSE Arena becomes the north's newest pantomime venue this year, staging family favourite Aladdin with a cast led by Rhydian Roberts, of X-Factor fame.

Rhydian, as he's simply known to fans, has gone on to enjoy success as both a recording artist and in musical theatre since his stint on the TV talent show in – can you believe it? – 2007. Having played Prince Charming in panto for the past two years, the Welsh singer says he's relishing his role as the evil Abanazar and looking forward to pulling some evil looks in Aladdin, which is directed by our own Dan Gordon.

"I'm an evil magician who is deluded. It's right up my street – very sinister and evil. I want to become the ruler of the universe," he laughs.

"The Prince is fine in panto, but it's a bit of a wet role. The villans are always better. I saw Marti Pellow play the role last year and thought 'I could do that', so when they called me to play this role I just thought it was perfect."

Although he has been cast as the bad guy in the past – evil dentist Orin Scrivello, in Little Shop of Horrors, the none-too-nice chief of police in We Will Rock You and Pontius Pilot in Jesus Christ Superstar, for example – Rhydian denies the roles reflects his own personality.

"It's completely against type," he protests.

Surprisingly, he didn't see his first pantomime until he was 15 but has since made it an integral part of his Christmas tradition. No stranger to Belfast, having played here with The X-Factor Live stage show, his solo tour and shows at the Grand Opera House, he is looking forward to spending Christmas in the city, when his girlfriend will be joining him.

On his Christmas wish list this year is "a good pair of decent headphones". But what if he did meet a genie in real-life and was granted three wishes?

"I would like the British Isles to be warm and sunny all year round. I would like never to have to shave and I'd like to stay in my mid-30s for the rest of my life and not age," says the 34-year-old.

Rhydian, who became a household name after he was runner-up in The X Factor a decade ago, still watches the show whenever he can and had been cheering on fellow Welsh singer Lloyd Macey until he was knocked out in the semi-final on Sunday.

"I was in touch with Lloyd," he says. "He has a nice voice and I knew he would do well."

So what tips would he have for contestants at this stage of the competition?

"The main thing is to enjoy your time. It's so exciting; you are in all the papers. Don't believe all the hype and focus on the music is my advice."

Joining Rhydian on stage, in the title role of Aladdin, is new singing sensation Jake Carter, the younger brother of country superstar Nathan Carter; Dublin model and singer Nadia Forde plays Jasmine ane, appearing in her very first panto, Belfast comedian Nuala McKeever plays the powerful Empress.

The cast also includes panto favourite Ross Anderson-Foherty, who plays the Genie of the Lamp, Christina Nelson, Marty Maguire, Chris Robinson and Naomi Rocke – and not forgetting eight professional dancers, 36 child performers and a live band.

The show's music, under the direction of maestro Conor Mitchell, will include contemporary hits from Shaun Mendez, Ed Sheeran and a few classics from the like of Steps and S Club 7.

The SSE Arena will be transformed into an intimate theatrical format for the run of the show, organisers say, with 3D animations being projected on stage, and the cast bringing Aladdin's excitement right into the audience.

Doors will open one hour before each show with Q Radio hosting a pre-show warm-up party with the on-air DJs before each performance.

:: Aladdin, SSE Arena, Belfast, December 14 - 27. For details and booking see Ssearenabelfast.com

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