Jonathan Kiley and Alan McHugh
Qdos Entertainment
Richmond Theatre

Count Arthur Strong (Emperor Ming) Issy van Randwyck (Scheherazade), Christopher Biggins (Widow Twankey) and Rikki Jay (Wishee Washee) Credit: Craig Sugden
Christopher Biggins as Widow Twankey Credit: Craig Sugden
Bob Harms as Abanazar Credit: Craig Sugden

Last seen on the Richmond stage back in 2005, Christopher Biggins's Twankey heralded the inaugural season for now-defunct First Family Entertainment alongside Patsy Kensit's Genie and Simon Callow's Abanazar. Fast Forward to 2017 and, after a season off, Biggins returns to Richmond in Qdos Entertainment's first production at the venue since 2004.

The Grand Old Dame of Pantoland, Biggins is a national treasure whose damsel in a dress is revered throughout the Industry. His merry old Widow has a cheeky twinkle in her eye and knows how to serve both adults and children alike from inviting the audience to protect Twankey's prawn balls to being mistress of ceremonies during the songsheet.

Biggins is joined by Count Arthur Strong's Emperor Ming and the narrative sees the two paired up as lovebirds, resulting in glorious scenes of comedy. When the Emperor decides to woo the Widow with a romantic song having presented her with an apple, little does he know that she'll soon be singing with her mouth full and covering him with the contents.

The two have strong chemistry and take the audience back to the days of the Music Hall. No finer example of this exists than in their rendition of "If I were not in Old Peking" which sees Biggins as a WPC using his truncheon to inflict pain on Strong as, bedecked in a tutu, he dreams of being a ballerina. The interplay between the performers is a joy to behold as Strong struggles to keep up and Biggins reminds him in matronly tones, "this is a very important routine!"

Joining them in their merriment is Issy van Randwyck's eccentric and fine-voiced Scheherazade and Rikki Jay's cheeky chappy Wishee Washee. Both enter into proceedings with great gusto and ensure the production zips along at a fine speed, whilst ticking off all the pantomime staples.

In the role of Abanazar, Bob Harms effortlessly elicits boos from his wicked sorcery and both Al Jenkins as Aladdin and Denquar Chupack as Princess Jasmine ensure romance and pop songs alike are delivered with youthful energy.

The production enjoys some strong choreography thanks to Paul Robinson with the auditorium as well as the stage awash with light courtesy of Pete Watts, frequently breaking the fourth wall and using every surface as a canvas.

A mixture of original songs and chart hits gives Aladdin a bespoke feel, but it is rather disappointing that recorded backing voices prevent the ensemble from participating vocally and frequently take over, drowning out Chupack in a rendition of hit-of-the-year and 2017 panto staple "Symphony".

Aladdin's transformation sequence may be somewhat underwhelming with Twankey's launderette showing little sign of any anarchy or slosh, but, in a production that features a soaring magic carpet and can-canning panda, Qdos Entertainment presents a solid regional pantomime that leaves its audience feeling festive and ready for Christmas.

Reviewer: Simon Sladen

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