Lawrence Batley Theatre
Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield
This is the third consecutive pantomime that Joyce Branagh has directed for the Lawrence Batley Theatre, and it’s probably her strongest yet.
This is partly due to the irresistible power of the “Aladdin” legend, one of the most exciting pantomime stories of all. Indeed, few other tales can boast so much adventure, magic and exoticism in one neat package.
Penniless Aladdin (Thomas Cotran) longs to escape his humdrum life in Peking by becoming a rock star and marrying Princess Jasmine (Alyce Liburd), but these are mere pipe dreams. That is, until he discovers a magical lamp buried in an ancient cave.
Writer Andrew Pollard is an expert when it comes to pantomimes, having written and played Dame at Greenwich Theatre for 11 years. He knows the genre inside out, and he stuffs Aladdin with all the slapstick, innuendo and dad jokes you could possibly want. His local references are genuinely funny—particularly the ones to ropey sports teams—and they help to build a rapport with the audience.
Joyce Branagh is also a panto brainbox, having literally written the book on the subject, and she manages to orchestrate the show’s diverse elements (including a live band, a youth chorus and special effects) with no evident strain.
Aladdin boasts many memorable sequences, but my personal favourite was the title character’s gravity-defying journey to Egypt via magic carpet. This effect was brilliantly achieved, eliciting gasps of wonder from the entire audience. Truly magical stuff.
The cast is top-notch across the board. Thomas Cotran makes a warm and amiable Aladdin, and Alyce Liburd is more free-spirited than the majority of panto princesses. Richard Hand is splendidly sinister and sneery as Abanazar, revelling in the audience’s boos.
Stephanie Hackett is delightful as the super-brainy Genie of the Ring, and she is matched by the excellent Nicola Jayne Ingram, who plays the Genie of the Lamp with the broadest Yorkshire accent imaginable. Also impressive is Krissi Bohn, who reveals the fun side of the all-powerful Empress of Peking.
Like any good pantomime, Aladdin is dominated by its Dame. Robin Simpson is fabulously entertaining as Widow Twankey, ensuring that every joke lands with marksman precision. The audience was slightly subdued at first but he managed to get them on board fairly quickly.
With strong live musical accompaniment, Aladdin offers a pleasing mash-up of established pop classics. I particularly enjoyed Widow Twankey’s rewritten version of “9 to 5” and a medley of songs on the subject of wealth, which include “Money Makes the World Go Around” from Cabaret, Abba’s “Money, Money, Money” and the Beatles’ “Money (That’s What I Want)”.
Rachel Gee’s lively choreography is brought to life by the main cast and a talented chorus of young performers. Mark Walters’s costumes are riotously colourful and imaginative, and his set design is pure panto perfection.
I’ve seen some poor pantos in my time where little effort was made to give audiences a good time. This Aladdin was made with love—and it shows. Huge festive fun.