Theatre Royal, Windsor

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Michael Sharvell-Martin returns to the Theatre Royal yet again this panto season as Windsor’s favourite dame. This year his Twankey is no washerwoman, but manageress of the ‘Wok and Woll Hip Hop Chip Chop Shop’ and a change of vocation means out with old and in with new as the mangle routine is swapped with comedy plate smashing. Sharvell-Martin’s Widow is a graduate of the Music Hall School of Daming and therefore a rare breed in Pantoland today. She is brash, yet motherly, but her underperformed musical number proved there wasn’t quite as much ‘Life in the old girl yet’ as there once was.

Samantha Barks’ Aladdin is principal boy perfection. She can sing, act and dance beautifully and she sure knows how to slap her thigh. Barks plays Aladdin as a cheeky adventurous young scamp and she has a great future ahead of her as a principal boy if she wishes to pursue this role in future seasons. Some producer had better snap her up for next year quickly as she is sure to guarantee success; that is if she’s not already taken. With actresses like Barks playing the role so well, we may just see the return of the female principal boy as finally we have someone who does the role justice and takes it seriously.

Jess Conrad and Wendy Craig headline the show, playing Abanazar and the Empress respectively. Older members of the audience appreciate this casting, although the youngsters have no idea who the more mature cast members are, being much more enthralled by Toby Hull as Sergeant Hi Pong and Emu, who unfortunately seemed to be on his best behaviour without his usual extreme madcap antics.

Conrad plays a metrosexual Abanazar who hopes the mystical Genie will provide him with the elixir of youth he so craves. Constantly looking in a mirror, chest exposed, complete with bling pendant and a very prominent glittery codpiece, this Abanazar is more concerned with his skin than securing the lamp. Conrad does arrogant, smarmy and vain a bit too well and comes across as annoying, rather than evil. At the end he gives up far too easily and consigns himself to the dungeons before being vaporized, but this is the writer’s fault in a script which could have benefited greatly from a few more gags.

Craig is a regal Empress with a delightful singing voice, heard briefly as she sings the Butterflies theme tune; a nod to her past. Conrad’s career is also alluded to when he performs a medley of sixties tunes to which the entire audience clap along.

Nearly all of the other songs come from musicals, with Dolly getting a “Hello Twankey” remake. “We’re in the money” is a glorious end to Act One, complete with tap dancing Genie (Nathan Vaughan-Harris) and a glittering chorus after what was a shaky scene change to the enchanted cave. A High School Musical number, complete with American footballers and cheerleaders, pleases the younger members of the audience as it closes Act Two and one can’t help but think that perhaps the heavy musical bias is due to Mr.Kenwright’s influence as the theatre’s Executive Producer?

All of the performers appear to be given equal time on stage and this allows the narrative to flow quickly and smoothly without interruptions. Camilla the camel is a wonderful addition to the show and received a chorus of “Ahh”s as she helped Twankey, Wishee and Sergeant Hi Pong across the desert in search of Abanazar.

This production is good clean fun and with emphasis on the story, the action doesn’t drag. References to Strictly Come Dancing, Jedward and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? give Aladdin a contemporary feel. Well choreographed numbers, danced by a large ensemble support the strong cast and make this a show which offers something for everyone.

Plays until 10th January

Reviewer: Simon Sladen

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