Review: Norwich Theatre Royal’s pantomime, Aladdin
- Credit: Simon Finlay Photography
'I've smiled so much my face hurts,' laughed the lady sitting next to my son after singing her heart out in the closing moments of Aladdin at Norwich Theatre Royal.
She wasn't the only one – this is a show which really delivers the panto goods in plentiful supply, with laugh-out-loud comedy set pieces, plenty of knowing local in-jokes, sparkling choreography and musicality and if that's not enough, there are adorable baby pandas, too (a shout out to the Central School panto babes).
As ever in the Theatre Royal's pantomimes, the chief sources of energy are Richard Gauntlett who takes the dame role of Widow Twankey and Ben Langley as an adorable Wishee Washee.
The pair own the stage whenever they're together and they know exactly how to press the audience's buttons, making the entire auditorium erupt with laughter.
When Gauntlett and Langley are in full verbal flight, it's an absolute treat to watch – some of those routines must be fiendishly difficult to learn and they perform them with such nonchalant ease and excellence that it makes me ashamed I can't even remember my passwords on internet sites.
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And, of course, it's Gauntlett that writes and directs the show, too – this is his 18th year in pantomime at the Theatre Royal and his unique interpretation of the oriental fairytale Aladdin combines simple but brilliant stagecraft with some spectacular set pieces: the flying carpet routines in particular were wonderful.
The love story between Aladdin (Steven Roberts) and Princess Willow (Anna Hannides) sits at the centre of this show and both are hugely likeable and add a real touch of class to this production, particularly vocally.
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Roberts and Hannides both have lovely, clear, strong voices and with the orchestra have tweaked a selection of musically spot-on songs from The Greatest Showman, Take That, Katy Perry and Miley Cyrus to give them their own edge: it's really a stand-out year for vocals although I can always forgive a pitchy performance in panto.
(On a completely different note, I'm sure I was one of the only people dull enough to note the nod to the recent 100 year anniversary of the end of World War One with a brand new version of We're Going to Hang Out the Washing on the Siegfried Line, but nevertheless, I appreciated it.)
There was strong comic support from Rik Makarem as Abanazar, the evil magician set on stealing Aladdin's glory (and his lamp) and Kiera-Nicole Brennan was a delight as the Genie, with her infectious giggle and occasionally slightly stroppy wish-granting.
Kirsteen Wythe's costume design is glorious, particularly when she dresses Abanazar and the Widow, whose hats were particularly fabulous this year, with designs including a soap sud fascinator, a hat with a tiny washing line attached and a hair-piece topped with a teacup.
And the sets – my goodness, the sets – from lantern-laced streets to the primary colours of a town centre, cherry blossom-laden palace gardens to the ice cave setting for the wedding finale, Scenic Projects from Lowestoft have played a blinder.
Those stunning sets combined with fireworks and lasers were breathtaking
Finally, a special mention must go to the unwitting star of the show, Matt from Great Yarmouth (this year it's an adult and not children who are invited on to the stage) who was drafted in as a washing machine repair man and whose skipping was a sight to behold.
There's something hugely endearing about people who fully enter into the spirit of things and Matt really did – well done that man.
This is a show with a huge heart that hits all the right notes. I enjoyed it so much that my face hurt too – in a good way. Oh yes it did.
• Aladdin is at Norwich Theatre Royal until January 13. For more details, visit www.theatreoyalnorwich.co.uk or call the box office on 01603 630000.