Very few in the audience for this Aladdin had come to see a pantomime: they were there for Chico, the most celebrated loser from the television show The X-Factor, who somehow managed to persuade the nation to love him almost as much as he loves himself.
As things turned out, the Chico claque had the rare treat of an excellent panto, and a wonderful advertisement for this most treacherous of art forms. Even Chico seemed cowed by the professionalism of his fellow performers: his Aladdin was surprisingly self-effacing and, although his voice carries too uncanny a likeness to that of Stavros, the kebab man, he managed to keep up with the plot.
But with David Alder as a benign Widow Twankey, who mercifully relied on acidic one-liners rather than her underwear to make an impact; Jon Clegg as a chipper Wishee Washee, who kept the action rolling nicely along with sweets and sing-alongs; and Granville Saxton as a towering Abanazar, who gave back with verbal credit anything the audience threw at him, this was a panto that hit all the customary spots while ticking off the topical references, from television catchphrases to local hospital cuts.
Also egging things along nicely was Toyah Wilcox as the genie, an excellent example to Chico that there is a life after pop mortality. Of course, like all pantos, it went on too long but, just as childish eyes started to wander, a knockabout revision of “The Twelve Days of Christmas”, unleashing toilet rolls into the stalls, re-captured the attention.
Too often the big names hired to sell pantomimes make it obvious that they are only there for the money but this cast worked their Chinese socks off and gave the greatest British theatrical tradition a timely boost. Director Richard Baron kept the longeurs to a minimum; the sets and the band were fine; and there were also dancers.
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