Written and directed by Michael Harrison
Theatre Royal, Newcastle
If there was an award for the best use of technology and effects in a panto, this year's Aladdin at the Theatre Royal would win it hands down. Intelligent lights with ever more sophisticated gobos are a given in panto nowadays, as is flying, but Michael Harrison adds the Daleks, powerful hand-held lights and the incredible 3D Bogglevision which ensures that everyone, no matter where they are sitting in the auditorium, sees exactly the same totally convincing effects as the cave opens and rocks, bats and goodness knows what else fly towards us, as Aladdin moves through the cave, as the genie appears and seems to be talking to us alone and, later, as we travel on the magic carpet with Aladdin and Jasmine. It really is very stunning and adds a great deal to the pleasure of the the show.
We can add to that superb scenery and a costume budget which must be astronomical, but if that was all there is to Aladdin, it wouldn't be a great panto, just an impressive one, glittery on the outside but hollow within. However writer/director/producer Michael Harrison has chosen a cast and creative team who know pantomime inside out, so what we have is an excellent panto in the traditional mode wrapped in a glitzy, exciting coating.
Leading the cast is the father and son comedy duo Clive Webb (Mr Romeo Twankey) and Danny Adams (Aladdin). We've lost Wishee Washee and combined the principal boy with the number one comic, which does mean that the romantic plotline gets a bit obscured (although, of course, it doesn't vanish altogether), but, from the point of view of the kids in the audience, that isn't necessarily a bad thing.
Both are very funny, Adams in particular re-establishing (this is the third year they've played the Royal) his relationship with the audience within seconds of appearing on stage. He is a very physical comic, so essential for panto, with a mobile face and a fund of silly voices, all of which endear him to the whole audience, not just the kids.
That is important: both adults and kids must be catered for and this panto - and especially Webb and Adams - gives everyone something to laugh at, with the more risqué jokes flying right over the kids' heads but having the adults in stitches.
Widow Twankey has become Mrs Twankey (although Chris Hayward, who has been playing Dame for twenty-odd years, did forget when he introduced himself to the audience on press night - although only a nit-picking critic would notice!), but again that doesn't matter because otherwise he is still the traditional Dame.
Returning to the Royal for the third year is local actor Craig Conway playing Abanazar, a greater wizard, he tells us, than Gandalf, Dumbledore or even Harry Potter. And Conway does make a wizard villain, the man everyone loves to hate.
Faye Tozer is Scherazade the Enchantress, Ray Tizzard the Great Wally of China and, in the most thankless part in panto, Kathryn Rooney is the principal girl, Princess Jasmine. With strong support from a chorus of eight and the babes (called Juveniles in the programme: what happened to tradition there?) from Marron Theatre Arts, they complete a first class cast.
This is the panto the others have to beat, as evidenced by the fact that - at the last count that I heard - 8,500 tickets have already been sold for the 2008-2009 panto, Robinson Crusoe and the Caribbean Pirates.
"Aladdin" runs at the Theatre Royal until 19th January
Reviewer: Peter Lathan