If you’re looking for a bright and brash pantomime this Christmas, Aladdin at the Derngate in Northampton completely fills the bill. Lavish sets and costumes, beautiful dancers, a very funny script and some star performances mean this year they’re definitely on to a winner.
At first, I was a little dubious about booking, as we were going to at least one other Christmas show this December – as it happens, we’re now going to four – and I thought this one might be overkill. Then they announced that Basil Brush would be in the show, and as Mr Brush and I are old friends (we met in 1971) I couldn’t resist seeing the foxy little chap again. And I’m very pleased we went.
I can’t quite get my head round Mr Brush’s new voice – he must have had training from a new vocal coach. Once you can forget that, he’s as funny as ever, being cheeky with the rest of the cast, ad-libbing inventively when things go wrong, and bopping along to all the songs on top of his box. He’s simply irresistible, and got a huge cheer at curtain call.
Top of the bill is Bobby Davro as Wishee Washee, who I’ve never seen live before and who never particularly appealed to me as a TV performer – nothing against him, just not really my style. But I have to say he works the audience like a demon! His act is full of impersonations that give the story an extra dimension, as and when people like Harry Hill, Bruce Forsyth and Ozzy Osbourne suddenly appear and become part of the tale. He delivers his funny lines with panache and confidence and is the main source of the great energy that runs through the entire show. His version of the Twelve Days of Christmas, which he performs with Jeffrey Holland’s Widow Twankey and an uncredited performer known as Pinkie (I think I worked out who he is), is really hilarious. It involves a lot of audience participation and a sou’wester would be useful!
Talking of Mr Holland, we saw him last year in the Birmingham Hippodrome’s Dick Whittington when I felt he was crowded out by some more outstandingly performed and written roles. I’m pleased to say that in this Aladdin he’s extremely funny – his costumes are great, he delivers the more adult lines with deft aplomb, he’s full of energy, and he’s a great bonus to the production.
Aladdin himself is played by Brian Fortuna, which enables the show to play up the dancing element of the entertainment to great effect. For someone to whom panto must feel a very foreign genre, he throws himself into it with infectious enthusiasm. His interaction with the others, especially Messrs Davro and Brush, is very funny, and he conveys Aladdin’s over-confidence extremely well. Plus there’s a great salsa!
One other terrific performance comes from David O’Mahony as Abanazar (bless you). He exudes disdainful evil from the word go and is haughtily dismissive of the delightful Scheherazade (Charlotte Bull) whilst playing up the “Oh yes I will/Oh no you won’ts” with childish glee. He gets the level of camp absolutely perfect.
There isn’t a weak link in the show; it all moves forward at a cracking pace and it’s a brilliant entertainment for the Christmas season.