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.