Theatre Royal, Windsor
Sitting in an theatre surrounded by a capacity audience of schoolchildren is perhaps the best place to enjoy the magic of pantomime and the Theatre Royal in Windsor was buzzing with the youngsters’ anticipation as this year’s family friendly Aladdin was about to start.
Written and directed by Steven Blakeley, who is also most impressive as the panto dame Widow Twankey, this is a wholesome traditional panto that has something for everyone.
From the beginning of the overture, the kids were clapping along with sheer enthusiasm and this promised to be a truly fun show, and indeed it was.
It was quite a surprise to see Peter Duncan of Blue Peter fame and the ex-chief scout playing the evil Abanazar, but he was imposing and appeared to be relishing every moment of being truly wicked as he taunted the kids to boo him, which they did with increasing frenzy.
Returning for his fourth Windsor pantomime is the excellent Kevin Cruise playing Wishee Washee. He has an excellent rapport with the audience and is a true asset, cheered by the audience with every appearance.
Giovanni Spano is splendid as Aladdin and has a strong singing voice. He falls in love with Princess Jasmine, the delightful Jasmine Gur, and their romance blossoms despite all the odds. Their interpretation of “Call me Maybe” is dazzling.
Adding some knockabout comedy and some nifty dance moves are Twist and Pulse, the runners-up in Britain’s Got Talent, as PC Hip and Hop, and they certainly live up to their names.
The cheeky Genie of the Lamp is none other than Basil Brush—boom boom—the foxiest of foxes who quickly becomes the kids' favourite.
Michael Winsor is the pompous, lisping Emperor who only wants the best for his daughter. Making her panto debut, the renowned chef Rosemary Shrager is the assertive Empress.
There is a truly messy slosh scene in Window Twankey’s laundry with help from a teacher from the audience, but Wishee Washee still manages to come off worst and covered in suds.
Kevin Cruise led a whirlwind tour around the world with a variety of songs from “I would walk 500 miles” from Scotland, with the cast resplendent in kilts, to an Irish “Riverdance” number, a trip to Sweden to meet Abba and a Zorba the Greek plate smashing hoot. And the whole audience simply had to be up on their feet, participating it was tremendous fun and infectious.
All the favourite panto ingredients are there, oodles of audience participation including the now time-honoured Theatre Royal interpretation of “The Twelve days of Christmas”, but watch out for the twelve gallons of water and a magical flying carpet sequence that soars to the stars that brought gasps from the audience.
There is stellar support from the talented ensemble who dance and performe with passion, inventively choreographed by Dede McGarrity, and the junior performers are superb.
Musical director Lindsey Miller provides the lively modern pop score and, with a splendid colourful set and costumes, this is the perfect start to the festive season. Oh yes it is.