De Montfort Hall, Leicester
Imagine Theatre’s production of Aladdin rises high with an enjoyable take on this evergreen classic from the panto pantheon.
All the essential ingredients are here: Christmas cracker-standard jokes, dazzling costumes, well-known songs, and most importantly, an enthusiastic cast who make you enjoy yourself through the sheer force of their broad smiles and exuberant delivery.
Talking of the cast, this year’s draws include past X Factor winner Sam Bailey, now in her fourth year starring in the De Montfort Hall panto. As a Leicester girl, many in the audience already know and love her and as So Shi, she does down-to-earth, relatable humour to a tee—and, of course, has a brilliant voice.
Antony Costa (formerly of boy band Blue) wears Abanazar’s cloak well (the higher the collar, the more evil the character). He strides on stage all mwa-ha-ha and with a sneery disdain for the audience. Boos naturally follow. Many of the gags are at his expense and reference his past career, and he takes it well.
In a deviation from panto tradition, the principal boy Aladdin is indeed a boy, specifically Matthew Pomeroy, an accomplished magician. In something of a straight role (compared to his brother Wishee Washee—more of him in a minute), Aladdin does a lot of the physical work, running around trying to find the lamp, rescuing Jasmine from Abanazar’s evil clutches or encouraging us to wave (sometimes all three at once). It’s his moments of magic though which draw gasps from the audience—fortunately, Princess Jasmine (Natasha Lamb) makes a perfect assistant and their routines disappearing from boxes and levitation are jaw-dropping. Nathan Connor (from Channel 5’s Milkshake!) is a street, rapping Genie with some nice moonwalking moves.
Panto stalwart and BBC Radio Leicester presenter Martin Ballard drags up again, this time as a Les Dawson-esque Widow Twankey, and between him and Wishee Washee (Paul Burling—impressionist and Britain’s Got Talent finalist), they work their puns, gags and general silliness for all they’re worth. I would particularly like to thank them for their entertaining interpretation of Status Quo’s “Rockin’ All Over the World” and the elephant in the room gag. These two keep everything going, and Burling has a repertoire of excellent impressions to suit all ages and references. Burling and Ballard were also lovely with the four very young—and painfully cute—participants from the audience. Ahhhh.
Writer Eric Potts and Janice Dunn's direction keep everything moving at a good pace, the set is a fairly simple series of backdrops and curtains with the whole production brought to life with Matt Ladkin’s effective lighting design (and a big “wow” for the impressive magic carpet sequence). Overall, this production does a good job of keeping as many of the audience as possible as entertained as possible with lots for children to get excited by and plenty for the adults in the room (but not too saucy).
I say leave your grumps outside and feel the fun in this family panto: embrace the puns, inhale the aroma of popcorn, ignore the constant flashing light sabres and wands in the audience and sing, shout and dance along like you’re six years old all over again.
Reviewer: Sally Jack