Jon Conway
Darlington Civic Theatre

Publicity photo

They say that you should never judge a book by its cover – well, if that’s the case, then you should also never judge a panto by its headliners.

I must admit that I initially turned my nose up at the prospect of reviewing a production starring The Grumbleweeds and X-Factor’s Chico, expecting it to be a bit of a Z-list celebrity affair. The taste of a large portion of humble pie is not a pleasant one, let me tell you, but I must swallow it nevertheless!

Aladdin is everything a good panto should be – frothy, frivolous fun – and this is largely due to Chico, who plays the title role. A natural extrovert, he throws himself wholeheartedly into delivering a performance that is so energetic and physically demanding that it must, surely, be powered by a plentiful supply of ‘the batteries with the copper coloured top.’

The Grumbleweeds – well, two of them anyway – step into the shoes of the Chinese policemen to provide much of the trademark slapstick. Robin Colvill, as Pc Wishee, and Graham Walker, as Pc Washee, are true masters of their art and delight the audience with a brilliant mix of comedy, music and impressions. Their instant rapport with the children in the audience is phenomenal, especially considering that none of the youngsters are old enough to remember them from their 1980s heyday.

Max Somerset is fantastic as the evil Abanazar, convincing the kids that he really is a sorcerer with his magic tricks and flame-throwing staff, whilst Bobby Bennett, a seasoned ‘dame’, treats us to a kind and cuddly Widow Twankey.

Sarah Brown is a quintessential Princess Jasmine and she shines brightest of all during her musical numbers, in which she proves that a petite princess can still produce a powerhouse performance.

There are some amazing circus acts within the production, encompassing juggling, plate-spinning and acrobatics. Yu Yin as So-Shy astonishes young and old alike with her incredible skill and dexterity – the act involving the Chinese parasols is absolutely breathtaking. Bubu Endresz, who doubles-up as The Emperor and The Genie of the Lamp, is equally as impressive.

The talented ensemble of six adds colour and movement to the musical numbers, whist performing Sarah St George’s slick and stylish choreography with precision and panache.

Director David Fleeshman ensures that the action crackles along at a pace that retains the attention of children with even the shortest of attention spans. The script, by Jon Conway, includes plenty of opportunity for audience participation and contains all the required elements to qualify this as a good old-fashioned traditional panto.

Indeed, this production of Aladdin enchants the audience with some real treasure of the Orient and has spirits soaring even higher than a magic carpet.

Until Sunday 17th January 2010

Reviewer: Steve Burbridge

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