Review - Aladdin, Royal & Derngate, Northampton
IfÂ there's one thing guaranteed to get the average Brit into the Christmas spirit, it's dropping into a local theatre to hiss and boo as a nasty villain gets his come uppance.
I found myself forced to explain this very weird tradition when I attended this year's Royal & Derngate Christmas panto, Aladdin, with my American husband and toddler daughter (both witnessing a panto for the first time).
But we were all soon swept away by the on-stage entertainment.
The panto roughly follows the tale familiar to so many. Aladdin falls in love with Princess Jasmine. He is felt to be an unsuitable suitor by her father and goes off in search of riches, with the help of a lamp and a genie.
One of the main difficulties in staging a panto is the fact it is a family show, so tiny children and elderly great grandparents all have to find something to enjoy. In this respect, I was really impressed with how this production was written and structured.
Although there were some long passages of comedic dialogue which may make very young children impatient (notably a lengthy tongue twister section in which Aladdin's mum, Widow Twankey, bemoans being a shirt short in her laundry), there are frequent all singing and dancing numbers which restore the pace and action.
The result is there are plenty of funny, albeit somewhat cheesy jokes, to keep older children and adults laughing, balanced with a generous helping of silliness, colourful outfits and fun songs to grab the attention of younger viewers.
Having sat through quite a few pantos, I always slightly dread the quality of the humour but my husband and I found ourselves genuinely giggling at one humorous line after another.
A highlight, for me, was the presence of Kev Orkian as Wishee Washee, who had that rare ability to prompt laughter with as little as a single glance at the audience. He clearly has a natural quick wit which became obvious when he interviewed some children from the audience on stage and guided them through a somewhat challenging rendition of Old Macdonald Had a Farm, involving a dinosaur, a tiger and a chameleon.
Former X Factor star, Jaymi Hensley also shone as Aladdin, giving some entertaining vocal performances and offering a welcome appeal to younger audience members. (My daughter kept asking me 'where's Aladdin gone?' whenever the character was off-stage).
As mum to two girls I'm always sensitive to the way young females are presented on-stage and I wasn't completely impressed with the extremely thinly drawn character of Princess Jasmine, although she was played as well as possible by actress Zoe George.
I know it's a panto so I shouldn't expect characters with depth, but giving young girls in the audience a tiny bit of grit and charisma to look up to is always a good idea in a modern age.
However there is plenty of entertainment provided by musical and television star Paul Nicholas who plays a convincing 'bad guy' as the evil Abanazar, and the hilarious Widow Twankey, played with great energy by Darren Machin.
Singer Sheila Ferguson (formerly of girl group The Three Degrees) also gave some fine vocal performances within her role as Scheherazade, notably in her rendition of Ain't No Mountain High Enough.
The onstage action is also enhanced by some fun technical displays, such as the bubbles in Twankey's laundry, Aladdin's high-flying carpet and in the extremely sparky magic lamp.
This is a lovely piece of theatre to visit for all the family and some fine festive fun to liven up the season. Aladdin will run at Royal & Derngate until December 31. Visit www.royalandderngate.co.uk to book tickets.