With a packed house and hundreds of children brimming with excitement, the scene was set for a great Panto, filled with slapstick, one-liners and audience participation and all of the usual traditional Panto elements. The pleasant surprise tonight in Stafford Gatehouse Theatre’s production of Aladdin was that, although these were all there, there was so much for the parents too.
The plot more or less stuck to the usual Aladdin story, but with the twist of being set in China. A young Aladdin (Michael Hamway) is a “penniless peasant” who dreams of falling in love with the Princess Lotus Blossom (Seren Sandam-Davis). This is obviously forbidden by the Emperor (Kieran Kuypers) and Aladdin goes back to work for his mother, Widow Twankey (Steve Simmonds) along with his less-than-intelligent brother Wishee Washee. When the evil sorcerer Abanazar (Benjamin Stratton) comes in search of the lost lamp that will grant him the power of the Genie, he tricks Aladdin into going down into the old salt mines to get it for him. Instead Aladdin rubs the lamp himself and is transported from the cave and becomes a powerful prince himself. He struggles to keep the truth from the Princess, however and it all comes out when Abanazar gets hold of the lamp and banishes the princess half way round the world; at least as far as Stafford. The princess, emperor, Widow Twankey and Wishee Washee stage a daring rescue and bring bring Aladdin back to old Peking where he can start a new life with the Princess.
There are too many great performances to mention everyone personally. Michael Hamway as Aladdin is blistering with energy during his rock numbers, has great timing and a fantastic rock tenor. Benjamin Stratton is beautifully sinister as the evil Abanazar, and lurked about with real menace. Steve Simmonds was an endless supply of great one-liners and gave a masterly physical performance.
Everything about this production screams professional. Firstly there is the ridiculously talented company of actor-musicians who not only had the whole theatre in stitches all night, but gave universally great vocal performances as well as forming a band which were nothing short of perfect. Many of the cast are multi-instrumentalists so there was no compromise on sound, no matter who was performing on stage.
Secondly the set design was magnificent. Capitalising on the Chinese theme, there is a rotating palace, a trap door and moving dragons. The attention to detail is breathtaking, and the entire set has been fastidiously designed, down to the last light. The script moves along at a brisk pace, and when some Panto scripts are bursting under the weight of their own rhyme, the verse is used sparingly and to great effect.
With such great times to be had this Christmas, you will miss out if you don’t get tickets for this riotous production!
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