Adam Brown and Clare Plested
The Corn Exchange
The Corn Exchange Newbury
It’s panto time at the Corn Exchange—oh yes, it is!—and it’s wonderful to be back in the theatre that has been transformed with new seating and is COVID-19 secure.
There was much excitement from the audience as we entered the beautifully decorated auditorium with coloured hanging lanterns and strings of lights to help us get in to the Christmas spirit. Refreshingly modern and wittily written by Plested and Brown, we prepared to take off on a magical carpet ride adventure in this year’s stunning production of Aladdin.
With a bright, sparkling set and glittering costumes, the exceedingly hard working, energetic, strong cast fill the stage with festive cheer as they welcome us with the opening number “I'll Be There For You”—and we are so glad they are.
Ben Harlow is the decidedly nasty Abanazar, a dead ringer for Joe Exotic, in his animal print costume, who is certainly the villain who is determined to find Aladdin to assist him in his evil plans to find the magic lamp. He has an Apple Watch to help him. Well, it’s a watch with a real apple that he uses to summon Celia Siri (the delightful Emily-Mae) to help him.
Every panto needs a Dame and Philip Elvy returns this year as Widow Twankey who runs her laundry, giving a brilliant performance with every costume change more outlandish than the last.
Her son Aladdin, the charming, charismatic, rollerskating George Olney who first made his stage appearance in Newbury as junior cast member over 13 years ago, is impressive. He has fallen in love with Princess Jasmine, the delightful Nikita Johal, and is determined to find a way to enter the palace, ingeniously hiding in a huge Amazon box, and hopes to marry her.
Susan Harrison gives an exuberant portrayal as Wishee Washee, played as a cheeky dog with a risqué, bubbly performance that everyone loved. Her improvised rap using the names of youngsters who had birthdays was so clever, using her experience as a member of Showstopper! The Improvised Musical.
Aladdin is tricked by Abanazar to climb down into the cave to retrieve the magical lamp and meets Gerald the ginger Genie (Ben Barrow), who is hilarious. But how to escape and find Princess Jasmine whilst the rest of the cast travel by plane? Aladdin uses a magic carpet in a spectacular flying scene (now how did they do that?).
There is excellent support from Gleanne Purcell Brown and William Beckerleg who had us all exercising as Joe Wicks in a workout session. Adam Brown’s spirited direction is playful, fun and bang up to date, with loads of local references and groan-making jokes.
There is so much to enjoy in this spectacular production for both adults and families—it’s a must-see show and an absolute Christmas tonic.
Reviewer: Robin Strapp