Review: Aladdin at the Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham
By David Wood
Aladdin has everything you could possibly wish for to make for a magical evening of good old-fashioned family entertainment.
In a move away from recent years at the Everyman, this panto is written and directed by ex-Blue Peter presenter Peter Duncan and he definitely deserves a gold badge for his efforts.
And, as in the past few years, the Everyman panto has that special something that should come right at the top of every director's wish list - Tweedy. He may not be quite yet a national treasure, but Tweedy is undoubtedly a Gloucestershire treasure and his presence alone sets this panto apart from many others.
Much of the action is set in Old Peking where it doesn't take long for poor boy Aladdin (Ben Darcy) to fall in love with Princess Xiao Xue (Grace Eccle). But he is soon swept away to Arabia by his evil 'Uncle' Abanazar (Miles Western) in search of the magical lamp.
On discovering it, we meet the Genie of the lamp, played with absolute gusto by Miguel Angel. One of most inspired parts of the show for me was that every time the Genie appeared, he did so in the guise of a 'dead Rock god'.
So first he was Prince and then Michael Jackson singing "Aladdin are you OK? You've been hit by a Smooth Criminal..." Later he appeared as David Bowie (naturally singing Gene Genie) and his final alter ego was Freddie Mercury as we were treated to a fantastic medley of Queen songs. The choice of songs was fantastic.
The problem for Aladdin is that Abanazar manages to get possession of the lamp and captures the lovely Princess. But we all know it's going to turn out alright in the end and the show culminates in a spectacular Royal wedding scene back in Peking.
Aladdin's mother Widow Twankey was played with great energy and enthusiasm by Daniel Beales, whose delivery as the all-important panto Dame reminded both me and my wife of the late comic actor Roy Barraclough when he used to do his double act with Les Dawson.
Apart from Aladdin, Widow Twankey has another son, Wishee Washee, played by Tweedy. As always, he was right at the top of his game, whether it be getting covered in suds in the laundry scene, soaking the audience (us included) with a water gun or interviewing a few fearless youngsters on stage before the big finale.
For my two young children, possibly the best part of the show was when Aladdin, Widow Twankey and Wishee Washee performed a hilarious rendition of Twelve Days of Christmas where the trio seemed to be enjoying themselves as much as the audience, giving rise to confusion, ad lib and plenty of improvisation.
Ben Darcy was perfect as the fresh-faced, acrobatic Aladdin while Grace Eccle was a strong leading lady and the two combined well both on stage and vocally.
Miles Western was a slightly camp and very convincing baddie who at one time was described as Professor Snape, and that pretty much summed up his look. I've never heard my children boo, hiss and cheer so much at a pantomime. And they've been to a fair few in their short careers.
Indeed, Abanazar was so convicincing as the baddie that my four-year-old daughter Gracie flatly refused to clap him at the end.
After the show, my seven-year-old son Noah declared that his favourite moment was when Tweedy knocked someone's head off in the boxing match, while Gracie said: "That was the best pantomime I've ever been to." Praise indeed!
Aladdin runs at the Everyman until January 13.
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