Aladdin, Waterside Theatre, Aylesbury ★★★★

Reviewed for The Reviews Hub:

Michelle Collins last appeared in EastEnders in 1998, which would explain some of the confusion on the faces of the under-18s the Waterside theatre’s audience every time the Genie of the Ring makes another reference to Albert Square.

But that’s a rare misstep in Eric Potts’s script for Aladdin, which provides an engaging family experience. In the capable directorial hands of Chris Nelson, who also doubles as PC Pong, there is a sense of pace and storytelling that many a pantomime struggles with. Part of the show’s consistency is down to regular Aylesbury panto cast member Andy Collins, reprising his clumsy clown antics here as Wishee Washee. Together, Collins and Nelson have devised several sequences which appear to be unrehearsed improvisation, only for a slick payoff to betray the planning involved.

Around the reliability of Andy Collins’ likeable turn hang an array of famous names of variable quality. Michelle’s Genie is a fun streetwise Cockney, introduced with an impressive pyrotechnic sequence that is never quite replicated elsewhere. Her counterpart Genie of the Lamp, Joel Expergin, impresses with a series of gymnastic tumbles but struggles with his relatively sparse dialogue. Jasmin Walia’s Princess Jasmine, on the other hand, is sweet and charming, and although this TOWIE alumna previously attended the prestigious Sylvia Young Stage School, her onstage work struggles to keep up with the performance of her fellow cast members.

Nowhere is this more apparent than with her interactions with Aladdin. Danny Colligan is not a ‘name’ as such, which probably explains the title character’s absence from the show’s publicity material but his warmth and strong singing and dancing skills hold the show together, leading a similarly accomplished ensemble through Leanne Pinder’s choreography to great effect.

The real strength of a great panto, though, is the Dame – and in drag act La Voix, Aylesbury has found a great Widow Twankey. The former Britain’s Got Talent finalist only really comes into her own in the second act, it’s true, with a couple of solo numbers that are able to show off both her considerable vocal skills and some excellent comedy timing. But it’s clear that panto is the perfect environment for La Voix’s strengths, and one hopes a long career in damehood beckons.

The humour comes thick and fast throughout, in one of veteran panto writer Potts’ better scripts. One black mark is a joke about pansies, which is accentuated by the appearance of a couple of overly effete members of the ensemble. It’s the only joke of the night that targets a group of people, rather than being a good-natured dig at a character’s flaws or one of the numerous location-specific jokes, and as such feels like a mean-spirited and inappropriate inclusion.

That aside, this is a pantomime which hits all the right notes and is a worthy addition to panto giants First Family Entertainment’s roster of shows. In the spirit of bad puns that is de rigeur in the genre, this is one laundry-based show that is far from wishy-washy, and which deserves to clean up.

Continues until December 31.