PANTO | Aladdin – A magic carpet ride for kids and big kids alike

Billy Pearce as Wishee Washee and Christopher Biggins as Widow Twankey (Credit: Nigel Hillier Photography)

Alhambra Theatre Bradford presents Aladdin – until 20th January 2019. Review: NEIL MUDD

The Alhambra Theatre Bradford’s production of Aladdin, which runs until late January, is stupidly good fun, perfect for kids and bigger kids alike.

Starring Christopher Biggins as Widow Twankey and the hyperactive Billy Pearce as Wishee Washee (Look! It’s a pantomime, okay?!), the show hits the ground running and barely pauses for breath over the next two and a half hours.

If an abiding memory of Disney’s animated Aladdin is that of the late Robin Williams stealing the show by playing the Genie with the volume turned all the way up to 11, Pearce gives him a run for his money – and then some.

Appearing in his twentieth consecutive pantomime at the Alhambra, Pearce plays the audience like a fiddle, effortlessly mugging his way through a series of comic cuts for kids which are just knowing enough to entertain their parents and grandparents – this Aladdin is nothing, if not a multi-generational affair.

Pearce even gets to indulge in a bit of Williams’s notoriously unscripted banter with the audience. On the pretext of finding a girlfriend, he accosts some poor unfortunate woman in the front row. She is dressed in a leopard print blouse: “I like this,” Pearce tells her. “Did you shoot it yourself?”

In an interview with theCV last week, his co-star Christopher Biggins talked about how he learned from Ronnie Barker to be unselfish about good lines. Here is the proof as the veteran actor and showbiz legend TM graciously allows Pearce a free hand.

Given Widow Twankey is one of the pantomime tradition’s less fascinating archetypes, Biggins makes it his own with a series of hilarious, and increasingly bonkers, costume changes which allow him to glide across the stage like a brassy carnival float.

He does manage to deliver some good natured single entendres. One gag involving a bowl of prawn balls – ‘I hate it when people try to touch my prawn balls, don’t you?’ – seems to get lost in the hubbub, but it barely seems to matter when Biggins is clearly having a (prawn) ball.

This being modern panto there are some incredible effects, not least a flying carpet scene that defies explanation. There is, however, an ill-advised 3-D sequence which drags on a bit and is included presumably as a sop to older children suffering from X-box withdrawal symptoms.

Clockwise from left Emily Beth Harrington as Scheherazade, Simon Webbe as Aladdin and David O'Mahony as Abanazar
Clockwise from left Emily Beth Harrington as Scheherazade, Simon Webbe as Aladdin and David O’Mahony as Abanazar
(Credit: Nigel Hillier Photography)

The supporting cast are on top form too: Blue’s Simon Webbe makes a wonderfully camp Aladdin, while David O’Mahony thoroughly enjoys himself as the villainous Abanazar – “Soon I will be master of the world, the galaxy, the universe – and maybe even Pudsey,” he crows, lapping up the jeers and boos from the audience.

Credit too to Emily Beth Harrington, who as Scheherazade sings her Persian slippers off and gives a quite stunning vocal performance throughout.

Aladdin is a terrific night out, particularly if you book a pre-show table at the theatre’s lovely 1914 restaurant upstairs. Expect a visit from Santa while you dine, but the real magic comes afterwards.

Aladdin is at the Alhambra in Bradford until 20th January. Details here.

Read theCV’s interview with Christopher Biggins here.