Fun for the family - oh yes it is!

Sam wonders what is coming next from Aladdin (Paul Zerdin) in their quest to wed the Princess Jasmine

Aladdin

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton

****

IF YOU are looking for a good old fashioned pantomime and a dame with more dresses than Rackham's along with a few jokes that Noah told to keep animals amused on the Ark then Aladdin fits the bill.

Christopher Biggins, 62 this month, is panto royalty these days, the doyen of dames and although he is not as nimble as he used to be he still shows he has not lost his touch when he goes through the traditional panto ritual of bringing children up on stage.

They are there to tell us what they want for Christmas and show some musical prowess - or not - before they receive rapturous applause and a bag of goodies to take home.

Biggins manages to get the laughs without even a hint of taking the micky out of the children with never attempting laughs at their expense.

Biggins as Widow Twankey may be the headliner in this lively show but ventriloquist Paul Zerdin as Aladdin is the undoubted star. He is full of enthusiasm and great fun from when he first sets foot on stage along with his dummies Sam and Baby.

His material appears fresh and is genuinely funny although I do wonder if there is some sort of Christmas show convention where all the writers go along and select the top sketch for this year's productions.

Abbot and Costello's classic Who's on first baseball sketch from the 30s seems to be the flavour of the year and was beautifully performed done by Zerdin and Sam bringing the clever word play to a whole new generation.

The same sketch though is also being performed by Hook and Smee in Peter Pan at Lichfield Garrick which could be a coincidence but you do wonder how often it is popping up this year in pantos around the country.

There was also a clever bit when Sam sat on his own talking to the princess on a bench with not a hand in sight. Clever stuff by Zerdin who, remember, is also a very skilled magician.

Widow Twankey (Christopher Biggins) finds a touch of the Dorothys  form Wizard of Oz in old Peking

James Barron as Abanazar (boo) is a bad enough baddy without frightening the children although some poor girls did scream when he first appeared.

Then Stephen McCarthy, who has a fine voice, shows a bark somewhat worse than his bite as the emperor protecting his daughter, Princess Jasmine played by Sammy Andrews. His threat to kill anyone who looked on his daughter's face never seemed close to being carried out.

We even have a remarkably glamorous Scheherazade who appears through a trapdoor from beneath the stage in a puff of white smoke to add to the traditional feel.

Another star in this panto is the 3D, courtesy of Amazing Interactives and the large 3D glasses handed out to everyone. Serpents, spiders, rocks and all manner of objects come flying out at the audience and no matter where you sit they are flying straight at you which brings a healthy level of screaming and ducking.

As it should be with panto there is plenty of booing and cheering, oh no there isn't and oh yes there is and then we had Roy. Poor old Roy. He was picked on from the start and eventually dragged up on stage and fitted with a false mouth so  Zerdin could use him as a human dummy standing there with a funny voice.

Roy was a good sport about it though and perhaps deserved rather more than a Paul Zerdin DVD as a reward for two hours of mickey taking.

We also had a young lad who was dragged up by Widow Twankey at the start of the show to have has jacket washed - of course it vanished with the poor lad complaining it had cost him £60.

Come the end though and the jacket reappeared beautifully cleaned and pressed along with an M&S shopping voucher which had the lad moaning he didn't shop at M&S. For a fraction of a  second even Biggins was speechless. Oh no he wasn't, Oh yes he was.

Jusr one point though - what are the prawn balls all about. We had to tell Widow Twankey if anyone went near them on their stand at the side of the stage which everyone did with much enthusiasm but they were still there, looking rather forlorn as the lights came on and everyone filed out at the end. Surely some one can add a punchline in there somewhere . . .

Aladdin won't frighten the horses or shock maiden aunts, it is bright, colourful, fast paced and has plenty of laughs and children seem to love it - pretty well everything you look for in a panto. Directed by Michael Gyngell and written and produced by Jonathan Kiley, Aladdin runs to 30-1-11.

Roger Clarke

Meanwhile look out behind you . . .  

*****

Only in Panto could an oversized car-sponge, an overweight cross dresser, a nasty, nasty villain and a 3D Genie come together with a beautiful princess and a handsome suitor and be accepted as the norm. 

And that's exactly what has happened, with laughter and fun for all the family in Aladdin, brought to us in this year's Christmas offering from the Wolverhampton Grand, starring the glorious Christopher Biggins and the hugely funny Paul Zerdin 

Great fun is had by the cast and audience alike. Classic comedy travels and stands the test of time with Zerdin and Sam undertaking the timeless Abbott and Costello who, what, I don't know routine.  There is topical humour and much reference to Strictly with Widde moments.  A whole new meaning is given to drag  as the Emperor invites the Widow Twankey to dance with him.  

Churchill and Widow Twankey (Christopher Biggins) in one of her many costumes

Ventriloquist Zerdin who plays the title character is laugh out loud funny. Biggins has more frocks than Dotty Ps and more wigs than Peggy Mitchell.  But please, wardrobe, please do something with those awful black shoes. 

The spectacular crowd-pleasing 3D Genie of the Lamp and special effects were brought to us by Amazing Interactives.   The Theatre Orchestra did a Grand job under the musical direction of Shaun Critten.  The traditional panto horse takes on a surprising, but very cute form. 

The audience were game from the first moment and the children participated whole-heartedly.  By a process of elimination Zerdin selected a poor unsuspecting member of the audience as the butt of much joking and hilarity.  Well done, Ugly Roy, you were a great sport. But audience be prepared for the longest ever panto call out in history... take a big breath now....”Keep your hands off my prawn balls, leave my prawn balls alone.” 

The evening was rounded off with welcomes to local school parties, and ice skating club and birthday congratulations; Happy 58th Birthday to Brian, and an homage to the one and only Joan Collins.  

The show runs until 30th January and is well worth a visit the lift those winter blues.  Oh no, it isn't.  Oh yes, it is.

Lynda Ford 

Meanwhile, slapping a thigh at the back . . . .

*****

THIS is a beautiful traditional pantomime with all the old favourites, crazy costumes, bags of audience participation and the added bonus of modern technology.

Here the genie of the lamp doesn't leap from the wings in a puff of smoke to help our hero, Aladdin, he flies all over the auditorium in his Tommy Cooper fez, powered by brilliant 3-D system that is so impressive.

People in the audience duck and scream, too, as a range of nasty looking spiders, bugs, rocks, sea monsters and even a flaming dragon fly towards their faces after they are invited to don the special specs provided.

It's terrific fun, a magic carpet ride to remember, and the first thing children mention if you ask what they enjoyed most when the show is over is the three dimensional experience.

And we haven't discussed the human stars yet! Paul Zerdin, the remarkable ventroliquist, and his puppet, Sam, are a joy, and there is a stunning scene when Sam, sitting alone on a bench with Zerdin off stage, chats to Princess Jasmine (Sammy Andrews) by some kind of remote control.

Chief of police (Paul Rivers) takes a dive for the Emperor ( Stephen McCarthy)

Then came that wonderful bit of audience participation. Plucked from the stalls, Roy, from Pelsall, was fitted with a false jaw and mouth which Zerdin operated so that the fall guy appeared to be making hilarious comments in a strange voice.

Christopher Biggins - not as nimble as he used to be - is still a top panto dame and I lost count of the multi coloured and bizarre costumes he wore in his role as Aladdin's mum, Widow Twanky. On media night he persuaded a young man from the front row onto the stage, took off his zip-up jacket and popped it into a 'washine machine' with the lad protesting that it had cost £60.

Later his jacket was returned to him intact with a Marks & Spencer voucher prize, but he stunned Mrs Twanky by saying: "I don't shop at Marks & Spencer."

James Barron earns the boos and jeers as the nasty Abanazar, while Lora Munro is a lovely Scheherazade, who does appear from time to time in the old fashioned way with a puff of white smoke.

Aladdin continues rubbing his old lamp till 30.01.11. The panto is directed by Michael Gyngell with Shaun Critten's musical direction.

Paul Marston

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