Review: Aladdin (Gladstone Theatre, Port Sunlight)

 

Here’s a show to warm the cockles of your heart. As I looked round the audience, I reflected that rarely had I seen such unalloyed joy on so many faces, young and old alike. If you’re looking for the true spirit of Christmas, this is where you’ll find it.

In the nicest possible way, I didn’t think they made pantomimes like this anymore. It was as if the magic carpet that features in the script had whisked us all back to the 1950s, inviting us to enjoy a proper traditional pantomime – a show that is refreshingly free of innuendo and still makes you laugh out loud at its simple, absurd comedy.

These qualities are perhaps not surprising when you look at the pedigree of the exceptionally talented cast. The Patton Brothers, for instance – who play a pair of Chinese policemen – have appeared in TV’s Chucklevision many times and are the older siblings of the Chuckle Brothers. They’ve been a double act since 1954, and have appeared in 57 pantomimes before this one, at theatres all over the country including the London Palladium, the Manchester Palace and the Glasgow Pavilion. They were totally relaxed and at home on stage, and their professionalism was a pleasure to witness.

Pete Lindup has appeared with Ken Dodd in the past and his Widow Twankey was another excellent ‘old school’ performance. There was nothing exaggeratedly camp about his interpretation of the role; he was simply a man playing (very well) the part of an old woman, the mother of two boisterous sons. Andy Eastwood plays one of these, Aladdin’s brother Wishee Washee. He again has appeared alongside Ken Dodd, who actually gave him his first break into show business. A highly engaging actor, he’s also a very talented musician and towards the end performed some lovely Christmas songs, getting the audience on their feet to sing along as he accompanied himself on ukulele, guitar and violin.

Aladdin himself is played by Danny Rogers, the son of Ted Rogers of 3-2-1 fame. His was another fine performance, charming the audience and establishing an easy rapport with them from the off. Also making an immediate impact was Mervyn Francis, whose Abanazer had the audience booing and hissing within seconds of his arrival on stage. Francis apparently has a reputation as one of the best nasties in the business, and it’s not hard to see why.

Helen Farrell was a delightful Princess, and the duets she performed with Danny Rogers were a highlight of the show. Experienced magic act Jason Steele and Joanne are an appropriate choice to play the Genie of the Lamp and the Slave of the Ring, though the firecrackers that announce the Genie’s arrivals on stage might have benefited from a bit more smoke!

Chris Ritchie’s Emperor has one of the show’s funniest moments, when he stands alone on stage stoically battling his way through a song as the rest of the cast create mayhem around him, darting all over the auditorium looking for a 50p coin. When he made it to the end he received a deserved ovation.

Last but not least, the youngsters from the Wirral Theatre School (augmented by students from West Cheshire College) were outstanding as the Citizens of Peking – smashing dancers whose expertly choreographed routines were great to watch. The well designed sets and backdrops, and the lavish, often suitably hilarious costumes added to the visual spectacle.

The Gladstone Theatre, which I’d not visited before, was a perfect venue for the show. A classically intimate, traditional theatre, with an orchestra pit – the live music was first rate as well – in full view fronting a stage framed by a proscenium arch. As you took your seat you could almost smell the greasepaint. The theatre’s a registered charity and easy to find as it’s right by Port Sunlight station. The building has a long history but this is the theatre’s first professional pantomime. The tickets are very reasonably priced and it deserves to be a great success.

It was a very nice touch when as the audience were leaving the cast came out to mingle with them, signing autographs and posing for photographs with the kids. It was a gesture typical of the show’s warmhearted approach. I loved it, and my six year old daughter did as well – it really is the perfect seasonal tonic for everybody.

***** A gem of a show – deserves a full house every night!

Aladdin continues at the Gladstone Theatre, Port Sunlight until 7 January 2017. For more information, click HERE.