CAROLINE CULOT Norwich Theatre Royal


You are in for a real festive treat with a visit to this panto.

Once again, written and starring Rikki Jay and Richard Gauntlett, this show is everything you hope it will be – traditional, magical, romantic, funny and with plenty of audience participation.

It has been a big criticism of mine that in the past, some of the Theatre Royal pantomimes have not been suitable for children. They have contained too much bawdy innuendo, storylines which have been altered beyond recognition and lacking the kind of magic which makes going to the theatre a wonderful experience for children. I think the panto which opened with a drunken fairy was a real low point. It seems that sometimes directors want to be too clever and too modern but thank goodness, we have none of that with Aladdin.

Richard Gauntlett, director, co-writer and star of this production, – you have restored my faith in the Theatre Royal annual pantomime.

For a start, he and fellow writer, the enormously talented Rikki Jay, have kept faithful to the original story of Aladdin. They have also kept the characters traditional without any awful modern deviations.

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Aladdin and also the “Masked Avenger” is played by Graham Bickley (who was Joey in the TV series Bread). He is the kind of male lead whom the grannies in the audience no doubt loved, a real gentleman, statuesque with a wonderful baritone voice. And despite what must have been a temptation to ham it up, he actually did it completely straight as does Rebecca Sarker (Nita from Corrie) who played the beautiful princess and it worked so much better as a result. The pair created real romance together on stage, particularly in the scene when they ride on the carpet across a starry sky. This kind of magic is so often lacking from productions these days.

My six-year-old son fell in love with both the princess and the genie (Kelly Shaylor), as I expect most of the dads in the audience did too. And he wanted to be Aladdin – so there you have it!

The baddie, Abanazar (Leon Greene) was a good old fashioned villain, who was nasty without frightening the children too much.

But I totally applaud the efforts of Rikki Jay and Richard Gauntlett as Wishee Washee and the dame Widow Twankey. Their timing, their comic presence, their ability to ad-lib, the way they worked the audience, their physical talent – what more can I say? They maintained a fast pace throughout the show. So often pantomimes drag, but not this one.

The show was aided by some breathtaking scenery, stunning costumes and in one scene a fabulous acrobatic display by many of the cast whom are gymnasts – including British national gymnast Kelly Shaylor herself.

Added to that, we got all the good old local jokes, on football, Delia and the City Council, which always makes you feel really part of something special.

There were a few minor hiccups last night – with Abanazar momentarily forgetting his lines and the Emperor of China almost losing his hat when taking his bow, but who cared? Aladdin is a fantastic panto – foot tapping and finger-clicking good.

Aladdin runs until January 18. Box office: 01603 663000.

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