Lee Mead, Joe Pasquale, Debra Michaels and David Robbins in Aladdin at Milton Keynes Theatre – Image: Contributed
Venue: Milton Keynes Theatre
Performance Date: 11 December 2019
Star Rating: ★★★★★
Reviewer: Gemma Fincher
Come panto season, Milton Keynes Theatre can always be relied upon to pull out all the stops and deliver a gold-plated production. This year is no exception with the all-star production of Aladdin flying into town providing belly-laughs aplenty with a cast led by comedy legend Joe Pasquale and West End stalwart Lee Mead.
Set in Old Peking, China, rather than the traditional fictional Arabian city of Agrabah, Aladdin follows the titular character (Lee Mead) as he tries to dodge the dubious intentions of the villainous Abanazar (Phil Corbitt) and win the heart of Princess Jasmine (Tegan Bannister). Of course, the action goes wildly off-book with the familiar and traditional elements of panto coming into play.
For a panto to thrive the key ingredients must gel. It’s always a tricky affair balancing the music, the topical jokes, and the traditional slapstick comedy but this cast delivers it all with class, charm, and flair. For seasoned panto-goers, the formula is tried and tested but Qdos Entertainment (the undisputed giants of UK pantomime) successfully manage to make Aladdin feel fresh and exciting.
As well as starring as the hapless Wishee Washee, Joe Pasquale also co-directs. The production has all the hallmarks of Pasquale’s signature comedic style and it’s easy to see why his popularity endures. Inoffensive, juvenile and thoroughly hysterical, Pasquale’s is as much a hit with the children as he is with the adults.
Lee Mead is a revelation as Aladdin, he has a wonderfully warm stage presence with the show giving him the opportunity to pay tribute to the role that made him a star. Mead and Pasquale share hilarious and palpable chemistry and it’s obvious they are having a ball. At times it’s difficult to know how they keep it together, particularly when you see the glint of mischief in Pasquale’s eye.
The casting team has struck gold, the cast has an incredible affinity with each other. Phil Corbitt is suitably dark as iniquitous Abanazar, successfully engaging with the audience to elicit the requisite boos and hisses. David Robbins is a pure joy as Widow Twankey, not only an incredibly competent Dame he also designs his own wardrobe of costumes and creates his own wigs, all of which deserve their own plaudits – his talent clearly knows no bounds.
The wider cast is also strong, we have some girl power in the form of Tegan Bannister as Princess Jasmine, Debra Michaels as the formidable Empress and the charming Sarah Earnshaw as the Salve of the Ring. Bannister demonstrating that women are also strong and heroic, a wonderful switch from the usual male hero saving the day.
The ensemble executes Jonny Bowles’ slick and vigorous choreography with aplomb making it look easy. Pantomime might look like a party every night, but it is an incredibly grueling schedule for the performers and maintaining the required energy levels twice a day cannot be underestimated. There is no weak link in this production from the ensemble, to the delightful children in the cast to the principals. They deliver their part with a joyous and infectious charm.
The Creative Team has excelled, all the component parts come together to create the magic of pantomime. The staging is vibrant and colourful, Richard Brooker’s sound design is a feast for the ears and The Twins FX visual special effects elicit gasps from the delighted audience. Led by an energetic Edward Court, the orchestra also deserves huge plaudits – the music is flawless.
It would have been tempting, given the current climate to pepper in some political jokes, a route that some pantos have taken this season, but there are no Boris jokes here, with Qdos (quite sensibly) opting to keep the comedy light with a wonderful mix of adult humour and the juvenile fart and bottom jokes which delight children so much.
Milton Keynes Theatre always put on a wonderful show but somehow Aladdin seems to elevate their panto to new heights. The jokes are funnier, the numbers more slick and professional sounding and the cast are next level. If you are looking for an evening (or an afternoon) of pure escapism, where your face will ache from laughing then book yourself a ticket to Aladdin and get down to Old Peking for the magic carpet ride of your life.
Runs Until: Sunday 12 January 2020
Best availability before Christmas: Friday 20th December at 7pm