After a year’s enforced absence, panto is back at Buxton Opera House. This time it is Aladdin that sprinkles its fairy dust on the audience and prospective audience members will be pleased to hear that they will be in for a treat.
James Holmes is back for another season as the Dame and on this performance, it is easy to understand why he continues to be asked back. As Widow Twankey, he commands the stage while holding the audience in the palm of his hand. His over-the-top performance immediately wins over those present and he holds their attention throughout with a virtuoso performance.
Important though the Dame is to the success of a pantomime, the performance can be wasted without the support of the fellow cast members. It is satisfying to say that this production has been cast well. Matthew Jay Ryan returns as Wishy Washy and establishes a great rapport with the younger audience members while Annelise Liard-Bailey and A J Jenks are very convincing as Princess Willow and Aladdin, using their good vocal talents to charm the audience.
Matt Bond as Abanazar and Polly Smith as the Empress play a deliciously evil pair of villains and revel in the boos and hisses that they attract while Phoebe Coop as Jools the Genie and Ciara Ford as Fairy Belle give quite magical performances. Thomas Cooper joins in the fun as Sergeant Pepper with Lily Cushway and Oliver Payne providing energy and flair in the well-choreographed routines. All of these are given excellent backing by the cute youngsters who form Team Sparkle.
This production sets out with the intention of providing traditional family entertainment and hits its target with aplomb. There are no risqué jokes to embarrass the parents and it was so good to see the theatre packed to the rafters with family groups who were relishing the entertainment on offer. With bucket loads of audience participation and lots of opportunities to shout “He’s behind you” this is the perfect example of what a traditional festive offering should all be about.
Under the brilliant direction of Sarah Ingram with choreography by Tracey Iliffe and musical arrangements by Ben Atkinson, this show hits the spot as the cast parade in costumes beautifully designed by Kate Unwin. There are many highlights in the show including a slapstick scene in Widow Twankey’s launderette, a lively finale to Act 1, a hilarious camel sketch and a beautifully staged scene that sees the cast leaving Abanazar’s Palace. But all of this is upstaged by the Magic Carpet ride that had the audience gasping in awe-struck wonder.
This production of Aladdin provides the perfect escape from the current woes of the world. It is like a favourite comfort blanket that wraps the audience in its warmth. If the magic lantern could be rubbed, you couldn’t wish for a more charming experience.