Aladdin, pantomime review: White Rock Theatre, Hastings, until December 29

Aladdin (Duncan James) and Jasmine (Tamara Eden). Photograph by Peter Mould
Aladdin (Duncan James) and Jasmine (Tamara Eden). Photograph by Peter Mould

Families can escape the cold and wet weather this winter and lift their spirits with a magical journey to Old Peking.

Aladdin, the dazzling production at Hastings’ White Rock Theatre has an outlook that’s as sunny as its setting, offering a relentlessly cheery tale of adventure and heroism.

The Genie (Louie Westwood) and the dancers. Photograph by Peter Mould

The Genie (Louie Westwood) and the dancers. Photograph by Peter Mould

High-energy musical numbers, glittering costumes, silly puns and plenty of slapstick – this superb show delivers everything you could want from a pantomime.

It also has its fair share of special effects with some impressive (and safe) pyrotechnics and a simply wonderful flying carpet ride.

The story begins with a ‘bang’ as the villain Abanazar enters to a cacophony of boos, boasting about his plans to get his hands on a magic lamp. Richard J. Hunt makes the most of this role, revelling in his wickedness and taunting the audience with amusing examples of his evil antics.

The Spirit of the Ring appears soon after to bring some goodness and light into the tale. Played by a sparky and winning Talia Duff, the Spirit speaks of our pure-of-heart protagonist Aladdin, a young lad who might just defeat the villain’s scheme.

Widow Twankey (Tim McArthur) and the dancers. Photograph by Peter Mould

Widow Twankey (Tim McArthur) and the dancers. Photograph by Peter Mould

The eponymous hero arrives in the muscular form of Blue singer and West End performer Duncan James who puts his pop star skills to excellent use with a rendition of ‘Higher Love’ by Steve Winwood. He plays the part with all the dashing charm you’d expect, but also gives his character the kind of friendly, boyish demeanour that makes him instantly popular with youngsters.

But, arguably, the real kids’ favourite here is Wishee Washee. Played by returning panto legend Ben Watson, the bumbling but well-meaning sidekick delivers lots of groanworthy gags and is game for all kinds of physical comedy. Whether being clipped round the ear by his mum or getting a custard pie in the face, he never fails to get a laugh. Most importantly though, Ben’s adept at audience interaction, immediately teaching the kids (and parents) a comical greeting to use when he appears onstage.

Tim McArthur’s good at this element of the show as well as the bizarrely dressed Widow Twankey. In fact, the audience starts imitating the colourful lady’s sayings without Tim having to ask them. He really nails the pantomime dame act too, being stern and mumsy with Aladdin and Wishee Washee, before gracelessly flirting with the Emperor and one unlucky man in the front row. And, of course, Twankey’s costumes get more and more ludicrous as the play progresses.

Andy Cryer is on fine form as the puffed up Emperor, loudly delivering every line as if he’s addressing thousands of respectful subjects (instead of two or three in front of him) and failing to see the harshness of his own outdated laws.

Wishee Washee (Ben Watson) and the dancers. Photograph by Peter Mould

Wishee Washee (Ben Watson) and the dancers. Photograph by Peter Mould

Louie Westwood gives an endearingly camp performance as The Genie, getting lots of hearty laughs with his effeminate one-liners. He really impresses in his extravagant musical numbers too, hitting those high notes beautifully and remaining the centre-of-attention even when he’s surrounded by back-up dancers in eye-catching outfits.

The considerably more down-to-earth Jasmine is a delightful panto princess thanks to Tamara Eden. She has the right kind-hearted, optimistic attitude, but also gets some cute comic moments, like a scene where she tries to disguise herself as man with nothing but a fake beard.

There are too many performers in the ensemble and chorus to name individually, but everyone involved in Aladdin is clearly giving it their all.

The choreography by Damian Czarnecki and assistant choreographer Tara Randell is clever, intricate and fast, and its performed with great timing and flair by the young dancers. The singing is strong across the board too and all the catchy, reworked pop numbers are delivered with enthusiasm. The music team and live band get a well-deserved round-of-applause at the end and special mention must go to director David Ashley for keeping control of such a busy production.

It’s a spectacular display, but Aladdin never loses sight of what it should be: good old-fashioned Christmas fun with a simple plot and plenty of opportunities for all the usual mischief.

Traditional bits include a riotous rendition of The Twelve Days of Christmas, a bonkers ‘it’s behind you’ scene with Egyptian mummies and the essential ‘oh yes I will/ oh no you won’t’ routine. Nobody can say Abanazer’s name correctly, there’s a formidable tongue-twister sequence performed by the Dame and there’s even an absurd singalong before the big wedding.

These panto elements may be ancient, but they certainly haven’t got old for the White Rock audience who laugh and clap in all the right places, and leave the theatre smiling.

Aladdin opens at Hastings’ White Rock Theatre – a video interview. Click here to read more.

Go on a magical journey with Aladdin at White Rock Theatre – behind-the-scenes pictures. Click here to read more.

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