Aladdin: The Brighton Family Panto

In a city deprived of panto for a variety of reasons in the last few years how good it was this year to see it return – and in force. After a COVID related break the company who brought us an excellent show a few years back at the Hilton Metropole have returned bigger and even better. This year they have take on the cavernous Brighton Centre but against all odds have delivered a warmth an intimacy with a show that certainly lives up to the word family in the title. It’s an important factor in my view, especially in a world were humour treads a very fine line between fun and filth. Each of course have their place but I was happy to find that surrounded by families and young kids that there was not one gag that I felt went too far.

The young audience soon got into the swing of things, we need to remember that for the youngest of kids, after a few years of lockdown the conventions of a traditional pantomime might be something of a mystery to them, but with the help of we grown ups they soon picked up on the shouting out of “It’s behind you” and “Oh no it isn’t” and what fun it is to have that back.

This Aladdin was blessed with very fine and very traditional sets, vibrant painted cloths and tabs that oozed a familiar charm, no fancy pants mega-buck wizardry here but plenty to admire including a very impressive magic carpet ride.

So on to the play and to the cast starting with an energetic and well drilled chorus of youngsters and pro dancers, beautifully choreographed by Jordan Langford and assisted by Jack Pallister. It is full on fun from the very first number and the choices of big hit songs works well even when the link to the plot is somewhat tenuous. Of course to get away with those big hits you need some impressively big voices to carry them off. Empress Me Me is just that kind of a voice, a rich and powerful soul diva who commands the stage with all the presence of an empress to be sure, Carlene Graham is just that.

Equally impressive is Allison Ferns who joins the company for a second time, this time taking on the dual roles of genie of the lamp and genie of the ring. This she does with skill and with great comic timing and added to this the girl can belt out a song like a pro, who would have known!

West end pro Mark Inscoe, with a list of credits to his name, is the most marvellous dame, fully understanding that the fact that we all know this is a man pretending to be a woman and making the very best of this, perhaps the most absurd but definitely the best loved of family traditions and again what a voice, rich and sonorous but used here to great comic effect. It’s hardly surprising that this guy has played so many great roles in the West End.

Louis Gaudenico makes a charming Aladdin, a gentle portrayal, in many ways an innocent but once again blowing the audience away with his fine voice and nailing every one of his numbers. And the same can be said of the Princess Jasmine played by Olivia Mitchell, a lovely voice and again a gentle presence against the bold delights of the big name brought in for the show.

Yes Anita Dobson is that big name but not just big in name, big in every sense except perhaps physical stature. But do not be fooled, this really is big in every sense, every inch the wicked Abby Nazzer, a gender blind reworking of the original baddy and one that Dobson make work so well. A seasoned pro of film stage and of course TV, Anita Dobson knows how to work the audience and the cast up there with her to full comedic effect. One has to hope that she will make Brighton her seasonal panto home with this company for many years to come.

Producer, director and script writer David Hill and co-writer Tim Slater have done an excellent job. The balance of the piece is excellent, the topical and local gags are up to date, the jokes are saucy rather than salacious and the whole feels just right in the hands of this great team.

But surely I have forgotten something? Oh no I haven’t!

How could I forget a performance as good as that of Joe Bence playing Wishee Washee. This was the glue in the show. For a guy who looks so young he has embraced every pantomime technique with such skill that it is as if he has seen over sixty pantomimes, as I have, and absorbed every trick and every nuance. He plays the audience to great effect and everyone loves him giving him the loudest ovation at the walk down.

As I say, after 60 pantomimes I have strong views of what should and should not happen and what does and does not work. This one works on every level for the tiniest members of the audience to those of who are… well those of us who still love this most British of theatrical traditions.

Andrew Kay

23 December

The Brighton Centre


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