Opera House Manchester
December 11, 2021- January 2, 2022; 2hrs 20mins
Right at the start, star of the show Alexandra Burke rises – slowly at first, like a NASA rocket – from the depths of the stage to explode in a burst of crimson energy into the opening number.
Aladdin certainly starts as it means to go on: more an explosion than a show on and off the stage, as the first night audience willed its delighted way to a joyous standing ovation.
This is a classic pantomime, with an audience instantly ready to boo the villainous Abanazar (excellent John McLarnon) even before he can get a word out to announce himself. Even we grandpas, with our arms folded, are drawn into the classic responses.
The show is built around the enjoyment and professionalism of Ben Nickless as Wishee Washee and Ceri Dupree as Widow Twankey. After last year’s lay-off both are so obviously delighted to be back on a panto stage. Dupree’s own costume designs, a new, ever more fabulous outfit for every scene, are wonderfully and comically outrageous and, as the action proceeds, give full value to a pair of legs that would grace a Principal Boy. Rochdale-born Nickless is a northern lad who easily draws the audience into his indefatigable escapades. He has some good gags – like the advantages of mask-wearing for ventriloquists; a wonderful high-speed monologue reprising the action of the first half, and an hilarious, tongue-twisting routine with his Ma and Abanazar around the word "shirt". He is also the principal partner for some brilliantly precise cue work with Francis Goodhand’s Opera House orchestra.
Traditional this Aladdin may be, but it takes advantage of some slick technical effects, notably Aladdin’s magic carpet ride out towards the stalls, with no visible means of propulsion or elevation.
The genie from the lamp is no wisp but a huge, north-country, Gruffalo-like creature, and Abanazar’s vengeful snake also towers above Princess Jasmine before she rather anti-climatically punctures it with her sword. Rumi Sutton as Jasmine and Matthew Croke as Aladdin make a personable pair and enjoy a spectacular royal wedding at the show’s climax.
There is a plot, but as ever in pantomime, it is the gloriously incongruous interludes that offer the real joy. Here a brilliant "If I were not in pantomime" slapstick routine featuring Dupree, Nickless, Croke and Nicola Sanderson, (moonlighting from her role as the Supreme Leader of Mancunia), is familiar but chaotically skilful. They are all in pantomime, and loving it – as is the show’s legit star Alexandra Burke, who looks like a convert, enjoying herself as much as the rest of us.
Info and tickets here