Theatre review - Aladdin, Manchester Opera House.

John Thomson as Abanazer | Aladdin Photo: Phil Tragen

John Thomson as Abanazer | Aladdin Photo: Phil Tragen - Credit: Archant

Kate Houghton reviews Aladdin, the Christmas pantomime at Manchester Opera House.

Ben Adams as Aladdin & Claire-Marie Hall as Princess Jasmine Photo: Phil Tragen

Ben Adams as Aladdin & Claire-Marie Hall as Princess Jasmine Photo: Phil Tragen - Credit: Archant

As a child, pantomimes both thrilled and bewildered me. The Dame was a man, the Principal Boy a girl. Grown-ups would laugh and I wouldn’t know why. Slapstick was the order of the day and romance always won the day. Christmas meant panto, and thankfully still does as now I can watch my own children bouncing in their seats at on-stage hilarity no other nation on earth could fully grasp.

Aladdin at Manchester Opera House is as true to the tradition of pantomime as you might hope, apart from thigh slapping women having been replaced by a handsome young man as the hero of the piece. And our hero, played by Ben Adams, is perfect in the role. His own good humour and enjoyment shines through and his set piece songs are perfectly executed. He’s easy on the eye too, mums. This multi-talented singer-songwriter, known best perhaps for his time with Brit-award winning global success a1, carries his part with ease.

Eric Potts as Widow Twankey blows the wardrobe budget | Aladdin Photo: Phil Tragen

Eric Potts as Widow Twankey blows the wardrobe budget | Aladdin Photo: Phil Tragen - Credit: Archant

Another much-loved tradition of course is the fabulous Widow Twankey. Played by the marvellous Eric Potts (who also wrote and directed the show) Aladdin’s mum is heaven on earth for a family seeking laughter and fun. My son was thrilled by her regular outfit changes, the belly-dancer kit being a big hit, as he explained that this was a man – a man! – and he didn’t really have big boobs at all! It would have been very easy for Potts to have stolen the show, but he doesn’t, playing his role with just enough restraint to avoid overshadowing whoever he shares the stage with. Oh, apart from the Russian ballet scene, which had Zac in tears of laughter even over breakfast next day.

Sherrie Hewson is one of the UK’s most experienced and well-loved actors and when we spoke about her role as Genie of the Ring she said she was interested to see how it would work, compared to her previous panto experience as the Fairy Godmother/Good Fairy. I can tell you, it works extremely well. Dry humour, sarcastic asides and rolling eyes all perfectly pitched at every member of the audience – plenty of Benidorm and Loose Women references and an utter lack of respect for her wicked master entertained us all.

The genie’s wicked master being our own John Thomson, of course. He’s great. Even when he gets the giggles, as they all do at one point or another. More panto tradition we love. Thomson plays his role to perfection; suitably ham-evil and boo-worthy, he isn’t at all terrifying, which is a relief to parents of small ones I imagine. I had to remove my three year-old from one panto as she got so distressed!

Of course, the joy of panto comes from watching your child discover the sheer pleasure to be had from live performance; the constant interaction between the cast and the crowded stalls; the well-worn, well-loved jokes; magic tricks from Wishy Washy (he’s very good); small children dancing and singing (jazz hands!); the evil Abanazer; the beautiful princess; the naughty old lady; a sing-along sing (that naughty tongue twister perfectly aimed at small boys and girls!) and a happy ending.

If you’ve not booked your tickets yet for this outstanding piece of festive fun…what are you waiting for?

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