Tag Archives: Aladdin

Wishing and Washing


Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Wednesday 14th December, 2022

Aladdin has always been a curious mix as a pantomime, based on a tale from the 1001 Arabian Nights, with a lot of Chinese reference points chucked in.  Writer-director Will Brenton overcomes the outdated stereotypes by translating the action from Old Peking to ‘Shangri-Fa’, located somewhere in The Mystical East.  Therefore, in terms of costumes and scenery, anything vaguely Asian goes!

And it’s a good-looking show, blending old-school scenic elements with a video cyclorama. 

The action kicks off with villainous Abanazar (Michael Greco off of EastEnders) revealing his dastardly plot.  He unleashes the Spirit of the Ring (Zoe Birkett) who, Magic Mirror-like, tells him the only person pure of heart in the vicinity happens to be the title character, who also happens to be something of a thief.  Or, as he would put it, a redistributor of wealth.  Greco is great, melodramatic and pompous, lacing the bombast with a wry sense of humour.  Birkett is fantastic, with a chirpy Northern charm and a singing voice to die for.  I’d be happy if the entire show morphed into a concert of hers, to be honest. Her ‘Defying Gravity’ while Aladdin soars on a magic carpet, is just wonderful.

In the title role, Ben Cajee is appealing but the characterisation is, ironically, wishy-washy.  Returning to the Grand for another go, this time to appear as Aladdin’s brother Wishee-Washee is the excellent Tam Ryan.  In fact, we have to wait for his first entrance to get the first joke of the night.  Also making a welcome return is Ian Adams as a long-suffering Widow Twankey.  Ryan and Adams, separately and together, are the comedic pulse of a production which is uneven in tone.

Instead of an emperor or sultan, Shangri-Fa is ruled by a twit of a bureaucrat, a bumbling Notary (Ian Billings) who is out to line his own pockets, believing billionaires to be better than the rest of us.  This change means his daughter, Jasmine (Sofie Anne) is denied her princess status, freeing her to share Aladdin’s social conscience.  It seems that pantomime is drawing lines in the sand this year.  Wealth should be for everyone and not just those at the top, Aladdin and Jasmine agree.  I welcome this refreshing change: panto has always been a popular art-form and has always satirised those in charge.  There seems to be a distinct move to speak up for the people this year.  Unfortunately, the Notary who has the power to say who may or may not get married, just fizzles out of the storyline and the thread is left unresolved.  Here is a character who needs to learn the error of his ways.  Also left hanging is Wishee-Washee’s attraction to Zoe Birkett.  It’s usual in panto for everyone to get a happy ending, but even Twankey doesn’t get a man.

There is much to enjoy, of course.  Duane Gooden’s big hearted (and big bellied) Genie, the hard-working ensemble of dancers, a slosh scene in the laundry… But for me, it doesn’t hang together as a coherent whole.

And there’s the rub.

☆ ☆ ☆ and a half

Bopping Beppe: Michael Greco making his di Marco as Abanazar (Photo: Alex Styles)

Rubbing Us the Right Way


Regent Theatre, Stoke on Trent, Wednesday 27th December, 2017


Aladdin is up there with Cinderella as one of the stronger pantomime plots, but it has the advantage of a strong villain role in the evil magician, Abanazar – played this time by Kai Owen.  Owen is a formidable presence, menacing but not really threatening, and it falls to him and his machinations to keep the story going – otherwise it’s a lot of singing, dancing and messing around.

Back yet again is the dream duo of local star Jonathan Wilkes and everyone’s favourite dame, Christian Patterson, in the roles of Aladdin and his mother Widow Twankee respectively.  The pair also co-direct and we are in safe hands: they know what they are doing to optimise the fun.  In fact, it’s the interval before I notice the omission of Wishee Washee, but then I realise when your leading man is so funny, the show doesn’t need another comic presence.  Wilkes and Patterson are perfect foils for each other, but they are also strong in their own right.  The ageless Wilkes, with his cheeky smile, juvenile humour and pop star vocals is an irresistible, naughty boy persona.  Patterson is never short of a twinkle in his heavily made-up eyes and you get the feeling whenever he utters something naughty, there’s something even naughtier just bubbling under the surface.

They are aided and abetted by a vivacious Amanda Coutts as the Spirit of the Ring, and an avuncular Simon Nehan as the Emperor – who has an Elmer Fudd speech impediment but is never mocked for this.  Yazmin Wood’s Princess Jasmine sounds as good as she looks – she could do with better songs, to be honest.

The show is fast-moving and fresh (in more than one sense) and the fun is augmented by a couple of 3D sequences for which we all have to don the plastic glasses provided.  Spectacles, indeed!  The cast is supplemented by an ensemble of energetic, often acrobatic dancers, with Nikki Wilkes’s choreography adding to the exotic atmosphere, and there is a host of children from the Wilkes Academy for the big production numbers.  There are pyrotechnics, an elephant, and a magic carpet, all adding to the wow factor, but in the end, it’s the humour that keeps people flocking to the Regent year after year.  Traditional word-play routines, innuendo, and some apparently slapdash slapstick – there is a song about alternative jobs for the characters that requires split second timing to get it right (and wrong).  The humour is crude but never crass, and the jokes come thick and fast.  Two hours zoom by and it’s a real treat to be spend them in the company of these two pantomime favourites.  Wilkes and Patterson had better be back next year or the riots will be in the streets rather than on the stage.


The Cheeky Boys: Christian Patterson and Jonathan Wilkes



Rubbing the Right Way


Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 13th December, 2016


This year’s panto may be the Grand’s most lavish for years, containing moments of spectacle and glamour, but of course what matters most is the cast.  Qdos Entertainment has gathered a fine ensemble of familiar and not-so-familiar faces, all of whom go all out to deliver the goods.


Wow factor: Joe McElderry as Aladdin

In the title role is Joe McElderry, last seen on these boards as an excellent Joseph.  He sings like an angel from pop heaven, to be sure, but can he handle the comedy?  The answer is an unqualified yes.  McElderry is a natural for the panto style and makes an affable, adorable hero.  Lucy Kay is a beautiful Princess with a voice to match (her duets with McElderry are especially good); Adam C Booth’s Wishee Washee is a highly energised crowd pleaser and Ian Adams’s Widow Twankey is an old-school dame, played to perfection.  Lisa Riley, in great shape, is an amusing Slave of the Ring, bluff, Northern and friendly, but it is the Lazy Empress, played by Doreen who almost steals the show, giving Old Peking a decidedly and inescapably Black Country flavour.  Doreen also proves she is more than a one-trick pony (or should I say ‘oss’?) with a song-and-dance number that defies her supposedly lazy persona.  A real treat is Stefan Pejic’s delicious Abanazar.  Pejic plays the villain with such relish you can’t help liking him! Ben Faulks is fun as PC Ping Pong, although if you don’t know of his children’s TV gardening-based series, some of the references leave you a bit cold.  Neal Wright’s smart-talking Genie of the Lamp is a great surprise.

Michael Harrison and Alan McHugh’s script is faithful to the story – the bizarre mash-up of Arabian Nights and Chinese kitsch – while allowing for contemporary touches and moments of wonder.  We’ve seen flying carpets before but not like this one, but it’s a comic song routine about alternative employment for the characters that brings the house down.

Kelvin Towse leads a tight group of musicians. The glamorous dancers are complemented by kids from the Classic Academy of Dance. The belly laughs don’t stop coming and the impetus never flags.

This production is excellent value and unrelenting fun.  You couldn’t wish for a better show.


Genie Us!


Birmingham Hippodrome, Tuesday 22nd December, 2015


Every year the Hippodrome can be relied on to provide the biggest panto – big name stars surrounded by spectacle – and this year is no disappointment. In fact, all in all, it’s their strongest panto offering for a few years, not least because the well-worn plot is strong; you have to have a framework on which to hang all the skits and routines.

From the curtain, Ben Cracknell’s lighting plunges us into drama, as the evil Abanazar (Marti Pellow) plots world domination. There is the traditional green that goes with the pantomime villain and plenty of swirling spots, combining time-honoured convention with the latest technology. Cracknell takes us from Egypt to Peking via Las Vegas – you could almost watch the show just for the lighting cues.

But that would be silly; you’d miss out on a lot of fun.

Lee Mead is a likeable if understated Aladdin and, of course, can’t get away without singing the song that brought him to national attention, Any Dream Will Do. Mead is a good fit for this company and is teased mercilessly by Julian Clary’s Slave of the Ring (the jokes write themselves). Walking innuendo Clary holds court – most of the costume budget must have gone on his range of exotic costumes (designed by Hugh Durrant) – condescending to make us laugh. His long-suffering quips and near-the-knuckle remarks are the perfect foil for the quickfire, earthy humour of Hippodrome favourite, the indefatigable Matt Slack, who provides the comic energy at the heart of the production as Wishee Washee. Andrew Ryan’s Widow Twankey is a textbook dame, holding her own amid these big personalities, and Landi Oshinowo’s commanding Empress of China is in great voice, but for me it is Marti Pellow who is the revelation of the night. He plays Abanazar straight (well, as straight as one can be in pantoland) and it’s not just his rich singing voice that delights; his moves and his whole look as he stalks and sweeps around exude an air of evil – but he is not above having a bit of fun along with the rest. He’s so good I almost want his wicked plan to succeed!

It’s bright, brash and deliciously low-brow. Everything you could want from a panto – apart from a good old slosh scene. The things Matt Slack could do with a custard pie or a bucket of wallpaper paste! The scene in Twankey’s Laundry would have been an ideal moment for such slapstick shenanigans but I suppose something has to go in order to make time for all the rest. We do get a knockabout physical routine in which Slack joins comedy troupe, the Acromaniacs

The special effects provide several ‘wow’ moments. There’s a flying carpet, of course, but also a couple of huge creatures (I’m trying not to spoil the surprises) that get the children gasping. The almost obligatory 3D sequence provides an impressive interlude but I think these moments are always better when a character or two interacts with them.

Alan McHugh’s script pops with pop culture references, local and topical references, while allowing Clary to have his head, so to speak. Choreography by Karen Bruce keeps the energy coming from the ensemble – Qdos Productions goes all out to fill the Hippodrome stage. This is pantomime-as-event and it works wonderfully.

Garish, glaring and gaudy, this Aladdin is a rich pudding of a show. I suggest you indulge yourself in a massive helping. Perhaps I’ll even go back for seconds.

Abanazar (Marti Pellow) - credit Keith Pattison

Marti Pellow’s Abanazar (Photo: Keith Pattison)



Bye-bye, 2015

And so another busy year of theatre-going draws to a close.  I’ve seen a lot of shows, most of which have been excellent and so I’m preparing an end-of-year review that I’ll post between Christmas and New Year.

Before that though, I have one more show to see and it’s a biggie: billed as Birmingham’s favourite pantomime, the annual extravaganza at Birmingham’s Hippodrome theatre, Aladdin stars Lee Mead in the title role and, interestingly: housewives’ favourite Marti Pellow in the role of the villain Abanazar.  I’m especially looking forward to Julian Clary as (what else?) the Slave of the Ring – Clary was part of Wolverhampton Grand’s perfect panto, Cinderella, twelve months ago, and so my expectations are running high!

Will Aladdin make my Best of the Year list?

Check my review next Wednesday!

Birmingham - Julian Clary (Slave of the Ring)

Julian Clary will be slaving away in his ring in Birmingham Hippodrome’s Aladdin

The show runs from Saturday 19th December until Sunday 31st January, 2016.  Tickets are available here


Rubbing Along Nicely


Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Friday 5th December, 2014


The Belgrade’s pantomime this year is that curious mix of Arabian Nights and a China that never was, the rags to riches story of Aladdin.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen a principal boy take the title role – of late it has been the preserve of male soap stars and pop singers, so it is refreshing to see the traditional cross-dressing reinstated. Here, Morna Macpherson is a spirited lead and a likeable hero. As Aladdin’s brother, the lovable buffoon Wishee Washee, Craig Hollingsworth provides the bulk of the comic energy, teaming up with his mother, the flamboyant Widow Twankey – a text book panto dame performance from writer/director Iain Lauchlan.

From the moment the curtain goes up, the stage is a riot of colour, thanks to Cleo Pettitt’s bright costumes with their storybook-Oriental touches.  One quibble I have with the opening, is I’d like the audience participation to kick in earlier.  We need to be addressed and invited in.  Characters need to tell us what’s going on, rather than talking to each other.  But as soon as Wishee Washee comes on, we are well up for it.

Walking on Sunshine is the opening number and Happy is the finale; these two well-known and sing-alongable songs sandwich some unremarkable numbers which, though sung very well, don’t linger in the memory.  As I say, it’s all sung very well – you can’t fault any aspect of the performances but the choice of songs lets it down somewhat.

Overlooking that, this is a traditional, old-school pantomime and oodles of fun for people of all ages.

Arina Li is a beautiful Princess Jasmine (since the Disney cartoon, we shall never again see a Princess Beldroubadour!) with effective support from Joanne Sandi as So-Shi and also the Spirit of the Ring – bringing comedy to the former and an exotic grace to the latter.  Marcquelle Ward is a hunk of a Genie of the Lamp and Aaron Gibson makes a strong impression as a nimble and expressive palace guard.

Relishing his role as Abanazar, Sion Lloyd is delightfully wicked in that way that only panto villains have.  He’s so good at it, you almost want his evil schemes to succeed.

When it comes to William Finkenrath’s Chinese Emperor, complete with comedy accent, I don’t know whether to laugh or be uncomfortable.  In the end, I do both.  It’s a sustained comic performance and undeniably funny but the hackles of my political correctness tell me I shouldn’t be laughing.  But, if we go down that route, we’d no longer have names like Wishee Washee, and the whole thing would unravel.  Finkenrath wins me over by the force of his wit.

With spectacle, slapstick and silliness, the Belgrade’s Aladdin proves you don’t need a host of Big (and Not-so-big) Names to make as enjoyable a pantomime as you could wish for.

Arina Li and William Finkelrath (Photo: Robert Day)

Arina Li and William Finkelrath (Photo: Robert Day)

There’s the Rub

Milton Keynes Theatre, Tuesday 10th January, 2012

With a script by Eric Potts, this Aladdin veers from what has become the norm with this production. We don’t get a 3D genie of the lamp – instead we get Camilla Dallerup, mangling her lines and far too many Strictly Come Dancing references – amusing at first, they bog down some scenes and soon become tiresome and unfunny. But we also get Gareth Gates’s Aladdin riding on a magic carpet, so it’s a case of swings and roundabouts.

Gates is very easy on the eye and on the ear. His voice is perfect for the pop songs he is given and he also displays a neat sense of comic timing and tomfoolery. He is ably supported by John Barr as Widow Twankey, and impressionist Paul Burling as Wishee Washee. Burling is excellent in his handling of the audience and when his impersonations are included as throwaway lines of dialogue they are very funny. When he launches into one of his routines and the action grinds to a halt, the impressions are quick fire and hit-and-miss, and you want to shout, Just get on with it, man!

The almost obligatory Twelve Days of Christmas routine almost descended into total anarchy among audience members and went on for far too long, but this is counterbalanced with an absolutely hilarious sequence between Burling and Barr, dressed inexplicably as ballet dancers, performing with a balloon. Very near the knuckle, this scene was one of the funniest I’ve seen in panto this season. A pity then that the laundrette scene was lacklustre and low on slapstick.

Adam Pearce’s Abanazar is in fine voice and played to perfection. Nicola Brazil imbues Princess Jasmine with a spark of fun and her duets with Gates are all very strong. It is since the Disney version that the Princess has to be called Jasmine, rather than the Badroulbadour of tradition. In fact, as a pantomime, Aladdin has always been a bizarre mix of Arabian Nights and Ancient China.

Director Andrew C Wadsworth (also appearing as the Emperor) is wise to keep things traditional and for the most part this production is a delight to watch. Also, the pop songs fit the action apart from a curtain call rendition of Lady Gaga’s Born This Way – a song that is almost ubiquitous in pantomimes across the land this year. I could understand Cinderella’s Ugly Sisters might sing this. I was half-expecting Tiny Tim to give us a chorus or two, but here it just seemed tacked on. A reprise of an earlier number would have done the job. If a genie were to grant me a wish, it would be for a few minor tweaks to make this show the most fun of the season.