There are few pantomimes that have the distinct magic of Bradford Alhambra’s annual festive extravaganza. Yet again Billy Pearce polishes his crown as panto king – this year taking to the stage as the lovable Wishee Washee in Aladdin.
The show has a great plot that ploughs ahead with pace and plenty of humour (written with an expert flair by Alan McHugh). Evil Abanazar will stop at nothing to steal the magic lamp from Aladdin to grant his own evil wishes – and our crew of heroes must stop him before it’s too late!
With a range of jokes set to please all types of audience members, from physical humour lovers to the sarcastic, witty or random, Billy Pearce brings the house down. Without his presence on stage, the show doesn’t quite feel in safe hands. Though Christopher Biggins is fun and frivolous as the camp dame Widow Twankey, he doesn’t have a commanding enough presence to get the audience really engaged.
Sarah Goggin as Princess Jasmine is sweet, though the unrealistic sword fight between her and her captor, Abanazar (played by Dvid O’Mahony with just the right tone for a love-to-hate pantomime villain) is a weak attempt at championing feminism. Let’s save that conversation for another day.
The real heroine of the piece is Emily Beth Harrington as the mythical guardian Scheherazade. Her voice is seriously West End impressive and she plays the role with sincerity and mystique.
I’m not sure where the direction went wrong for our poor old Aladdin, played by Simon Webbe. Ed Curtis directs the cast superbly – with a great range of characters designed to complement one another. Webbe plays the role with a delightful range of silly over-the-top gestures and expressions – and I wonder whether I’m laughing at him or with him. It feels a little like watching a character in The Play That Goes Wrong – crafted to play the role so strangely it’s actually funny. His voice is, as expected, really lovely but I don’t know if pantoland is his hidden calling.
This production doesn’t scrape by with garish costumes and a cartoon set with a few pyrotechnics – a lazy strategy used by many theatres that somewhat cheapens the whole effect. Aladdin is all bells and whistles with countless costume changes, big cast dance numbers, impressive scenery (magic carpet? Tick), 3D adventures and all the cheesy smoke machines and flashing lights you could hope for. Many don’t agree panto is ‘real’ theatre – but this class act of a show will prove anyone wrong.
Catch this mesmerising show at Bradford Alhambra until 20th January 2019.
Photograph credited to Nigel Hillier