REVIEW: Aladdin wows Milton Keynes in the true panto spirit

If you plan on going to see just one pantomime over the festive season, then the choice is easy – it’s Aladdin at Milton Keynes Theatre.

Their version of the famous fairy tale is probably one of the most lavish production ever staged and it boasts a talented cast that will wow even the most critical reviewer, writes Alan Wooding.

Starring Gareth Gates in the title role alongside biosterous impressionist Paul Burling as his dopey brother Wishee Washee, depending on which performance you see, the Genie of the Lamp will be played by either Russell Grant (between December 20 and December 24), Anita Dobson (December 26 to December 31) or 2008 Strictly Come Dancing winner Camilla Dallerup.

The show follows the age-old ‘He’s Behind You’ Panto theme but it’s been brought up to date thanks to top writer Eric Potts who is perhaps better known as Coronation Street’s Diggory Compton.

Responsible for a host of pantomimes up and down the country – from Aladdin and Sleeping Beauty to Cinderella, Peter Pan and Dick Whittington this year alone! – he not only writes the scripts but also co-stars in them alongside the likes of Barbara Windsor.

Set mainly in old Peking – that’s Beijing if you’re a younger reader! – the story is of the handsome ‘rags to riches’ Aladdin Twankey who is tricked by the evil Abanazar (Adam Pearce) into finding a magic oil lamp.

The son of Widow Twankey (brilliantly over-played by John Barr), Aladdin works alongside her and his brother Wishee Washee in their Chinese laundry – and they are responsible for laundering the money mad Emperor of China’s smalls!

Played by the show’s director Andrew Wadsworth, the Emperor isn’t best pleased with Aladdin’s chance meeting with his pretty daughter Princess Jasmine (Nicola Brazil). And while the usual twists and turns lead to Aladdin being promised wealth beyond his wildest dreams by old Abanazar, first he must find the tricky old Arab the lamp which is located in a deep, dark cave.

By way of an assurance, Aladdin asks the crafty and boo-able Abanazar for his ruby ring before he enters the cave. He then discovers that when he rubs the it, the Slave of the Ring (Djalenga Scott) appears to do his will.

There are plenty of funny lines and comical interruptions in the script while it’s the lamp that has all the magic powers. And by rubbing it Aladdin becomes so rich that the Emperor is quite happy to let him marry his beautiful daughter.

Throughout the two and half hour show there’s the usual gaps for chart-topping songs including Katy Perry’s ‘Firework’ and Take That’s ‘Magic’, although my favourite was Abanazar’s rendition of Queen’s ‘I Want It All’. That was a real cracker. All are superbly sung by Gareth Gates who made his name in the 2002 version of Pop Idol (X-Factor’s predecessor in which he finished as runner-up to Will Young), and Nicola Brazil, who recently starred in Legally Blonde and Grease in the West End.

However it’s the antics and side-splitting comedy of the brilliant Paul Burling, John Barr and the show’s assistant director Chris Nelson (who plays Chinese policeman Major Pong), that really stole the show.

Their version of the ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’ had the audience in stitches (especially the throwing of toilet rolls into the audience!) while Paul’s trademark impressions of everyone from Bruce Forsythe to the Simpsons went to prove what a great talent he is.

There is a flying carpet on which Gareth rides around the stage and with the key cast members having recently appeared on television in ‘Strictly Come Dancing’, the dance theme runs throughout, as do the many references to Gareth’s well known stammer: “They’re worse than I am,” he exclaims on many occasions.

And there was certainly no expense spared when it comes to the costumes and the treasure-filled sets. With eight professional dancers in the chorus, together with a team of youngsters (there are seperate A and B teams), it all adds up to what is a wonderful production which captures the true spirit of panto traditions ... and even the band enter into the spirit under the guidance of musical director Malcolm Forces-Peckham.

Aladdin runs until 15 January, 2012 and for booking details, call the box office on 0844 871 7677 (group bookings on 01908 547609) or log onto http://www.atgtickets.com/Aladdin-Tickets