Writers: Jonathan Kiley and Alan McHugh
Director: Ken Alexander
Reviewer: David Guest
Biggins is back! That simple statement should be enough to tempt panto fans young and old into cleaning their magic carpets and flying off to Richmond Theatre for what must be one of the slickest, funniest and brassiest seasonal shows this year.
Just when we feared the doyen of pantomime dames had hung up his wigs and outrageous costumes for good, Christopher Biggins bounces back to play Widow Twankey with accomplished style in Aladdin and it’s a production that is so good all other genies will be padlocking themselves in their magic lamps and wishing for next Christmas.
Biggins has a sparkling charm, is a tremendous stage presence, that dazzles in Mike Coltman’s sometimes breathtaking speciality costumes, and is as much at ease with his fellow performers as he is with the kids who come on stage for the traditional pre-finale chat and novelty song.
It is undoubtedly a star turn, but it’s not all about the celebrity King of the Jungle. For the polished script (by panto veterans Jonathan Kiley and Alan McHugh), the excellence of the rest of the cast, the quality of the chorus/dancers (choreographed by Paul Robinson), the delightful young performers of Babette Langford’s Young Set, and the high standard of the orchestra (directed from keyboards by Pierce Tee) all come together to create one of those pantomimes that contains everything you could possibly wish for.
There are enough double entendres to have the adults tittering without it being too smutty for the kids, the scenery and costumes are spectacular, the singing is classy, and the jokes are funny without getting too bogged down in topicality.
In this cut above the average Christmas and New Year show, directed with flair and care by Ken Alexander, the outstanding Biggins is joined by an unlikely but very amusing Count Arthur Strong (Steve Delaney) as Emperor Ming, the glorious Issy van Randwyck as Scheherazade the genie of the ring, and Rikki Jay as an affable, energetic and fast-talking Wishee Washee.
Bob Harms grabs the role of the wicked Abanazar with gusto and drips villainy from every pore, while strong newcomer A.J. Jenks is instantly likeable as Aladdin with the lovely Denquar Chupak as the object of his affections, Princess Jasmine. Everyone appears to be enjoying every minute of it, and this sense of fun is instantly contagious.
All the familiar ingredients of pantomime are present, but never once do even the oldest jokes seem stale, or the customary songs seem like lifeless fillers. This is a fresh and vibrant production where every moment matters, every effect counts. The genie of the lamp is a surprisingly effective hit and the magic carpet ride is executed perfectly. The comedy quartet number (sung by Biggins, Strong, van Randwyck and Jay) is a masterpiece of comic timing.
ATG have every reason to be pleased with their new pantomime partnership with Qdos Entertainment and if this initial outing is anything to go by, there are plenty of treats in store for the future.
Meanwhile, until well into the new year, Aladdin at Richmond provides a yardstick for professional panto, with more colour, laughs, and terrific performances than you could ever rub a magic lamp at.
Runs until:14 January 2018 |Image: Craig Sugden