Gone are the days of excessive "it's behind you" revving up children high on sugar and E-numbers. First Family Group's Aladdin – written by former Coronation Street actor Eric Potts – illustrates how pantomime can keep the traditional elements we all love whilst moving with the 21st century. Capitalising on pantomime's potential to appeal to a wide audience, the casting reflects how contemporary entertainers can now find themselves starring alongside and on an equal footing with their traditionally-trained counterparts. Only pantomime can allow for such a diverse cast of actors, comedians, dancers and singers, all fitting together so well.
Comedian Jo Brand headlines, and is accompanied by a stellar cast of West End actors and contemporary performers. It is no wonder they had to cast former Stars in their Eyes presenter Matthew Kelly as Widow Twankee. Jo Brand cuts through the fanciful plot adding a dash of her well-loved, dry, satirical humour as the sarcastic and indifferent Genie of the Ring. Parents need not fear as the rude and sexual humour Jo Brand is famous for as been tamed – to an extent – to be suitable for children's ears. Still incorporating the odd joke that will whizz past the children's heads she helps maintain the sanity of the very few adults who may find it all a bit too much.
Matthew Kelly must be congratulated for maintaining a dignified posture in high heels and really working the wonderful dame costumes such as a pot noodle that would give Lady Gaga a run for her money. Kelly has impeccable comical timing that will have adults and children in stitches with the essential risqué double entendre and mild sexual innuendo.
Partnered with Kelly for many scenes is South African comedian Alan Committie who makes his pantomime debut as the loveable and hopeless Wishee Washee. Displaying his skill in physical comedy, and an ability to maintain pace and humour along with complicated wordplay, he also skilfully negotiates the unpredictable responses of four lucky children who are bought on stage to sing "Old MacDonald Had a Farm" towards the end of the show.
However, in the middle of all this hilarity there's a story to be told. Cue leading West End actors Oliver Thornton as Aladdin and winner of the 2004 Lawrence Olivier Award for Best Actor in a Musical, David Bedella as Abanazar, to do just that. As well as delivering fantastic vocal performances they anchor the story and are the epitome of all things panto. Ensuring that everyone in the audience will be up on their feet and dancing, the songlist will have at least one track to please even the fussiest of music lovers, with its eclectic soundtrack of songs by One Direction, U2, Prince, Daft Punk and Tina Turner.
Bringing pantomime bang up to date are Flawless and Shaheen Jafargholire, both finalists of Britain's Got Talent (2009). Jafargholire is an excellent Genie of the Lamp, while Flawless wow the audience as the Peking Police Force, with well-choreographed aerobatic dance routines which have been cleverly woven into the production without breaking the narrative. Combined with the wonderful lighting effects to maximise the impact of their performance they demonstrate real showmanship and panache. From the volume of audience screams as they walk on stage their act could easily be taken on an arena tour and sell out.
If you are deterred from going to see pantomime because they are "just for children" this production of Aladdin will change your mind. Celebrity casting, contemporary music, and comedy for all ages makes this panto feel more like a very funny, very festive, gig.