Thanks to the New Theatre for providing us with review tickets for this performance
Within moments of the New Theatre’s Aladdin starting, we are enthusiastically booing and hissing our resident baddie Abanazar (a wonderfully wicked Stefan Pejic) and laughing along at locally-themed jokes.
After last year’s lockdown-induced hiatus, it’s clear the audience are thrilled to be back in panto land, with all its curious customs.
As indeed are the cast. They all look they are having such a great time on the stage and the rapport between them is wonderful to watch. On several occasions one or more of them can’t say their lines for laughing and it just adds to the hilarity of such a fun and fabulous night.
Aladdin is everything we’ve come to know and love from the New Theatre’s annual panto. There are flamboyant and decadent costumes, laugh out loud humour, innuendo that flies over the head of the children in the audience, a few Covid-related jokes, and big musical numbers with subtle lyrical tweaks to familiar pop songs including BTS’s Dynamite and We Don’t Need Permission to Dance, and Bang Bang by Jessie J, Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj.
We have the main narrative of the story – Aladdin and Jasmine wanting to marry against her mother’s wishes as he’s too poor, the Genie of the Lamp granting Aladdin three wishes and Abanazar trying to steal the lamp for his own evil gains – interspersed with comedy sketches. There’s a brilliant tongue twister scene where one mispronunciation could end up in a naughty word; another where Mike Doyle as Widow Twankey responds to directions meant for another character to great comedy effect (my 10 year old was bent over double laughing at this one); plus a scene involving a cucumber which I watched hand over mouth and sincerely hope my children don’t ask me to explain!
Gareth Gates plays our hero Aladdin. Almost 20 years since he came runner up to Will Young in Pop Idol, Gates has carved out an impressive career in musical theatre, most notably having played the iconic role of Marius in the 25th anniversary tour of Les Misérables. He’s good, vocally strong and every bit the panto prince. Even if my children had no idea who he was.
Stephanie Webber returns to the New Theatre for a fourth panto season, this time as the elegant and serene Scherezade, the spirit of the ring; Denquar Chupak is Princess Jasmine, and Lorraine Brown is her mother The Empress. It would have been good to see the female characters having a little more depth in comparison to their male counterparts, although I did love seeing a sword-fighting Jasmine masterminding her own escape, rather than relying on Aladdin.
Paul Chuckle plays Aladdin’s loveable but hapless brother Wishee Washee, entering the stage to the Chuckle Brothers theme tune to cheers from the adults who remember the show from their childhoods. It must have been hard for Paul to return to the stage following the death of his brother and other half of the famous comedy duo Barry in 2018, so it’s great to see their catchphrase ‘To me, to you’ making an appearance. Paul has been performing in panto since 1967, with over 50 to his name, and his experience shows in his perfect comic timing.
My children were thrilled to see Gareth Thomas reprising his role as the Genie of the Lamp. My eldest two saw him in the role way back in 2015 – their very first panto – and he’s been known as The Genie in our house ever since. He enters to David’s Bowie’s Gene Genie, bare-torsoed and flexing his muscles, carrying a golden rugby ball.
Mike Doyle once again plays the panto dame – “My name’s Widow Twankey – this year!” he says, wearing a decadent costume with a washing machine on his head. As in previous pantos, he greets the audience saying “Orriiigghht” in his best Cardiff accent, to which we willingly reply in a similar manner, and has plenty of comedy one-liners and jokes and a Shirley Bassey impression which has become a regular part of his panto appearance.
The sets are as decadent and opulent as always, from the market place to the palace. There’s even a comedy appearance from an elephant, and a real wow moment as Aladdin alights the magic carpet.
One of our favourite moments is the musical rendition of “If I were not in pantomime, something else I’d like to be” which is so brilliantly choreographed with cricket bats and frying pans flying about all over the place as the performers ponder alternative careers.
Yes, it’s a song we’ve seen before at panto, but it’s still brilliantly funny. My children, and those around us, were laughing uncontrollably.
Because that’s the thing about panto; it’s predictable, it’s formulaic, we know what to expect. But it’s a formula that wins our hearts every year, we love the familiarity, the routine of knowing we’ll have to boo and hiss. We love being made to laugh out loud at the ridiculousness of it all.
This year, more than ever.
Aladdin is at New Theatre Cardiff until Sunday 2 January 2022. See the New Theatre’s website for further information and to book tickets.
Covid regulations: In compliance with the Welsh government, everyone aged 18+ is required to show a Covid pass before entering the theatre and those aged 11+ are expected to wear masks during the performance (unless exempt) with a reminder announced before the show begins.
See my recent article for more ideas for family-friendly theatre shows, pantomimes and performances this Christmas season. Plus there’s more ideas for family-friendly days out the Cardiff section of Cardiff Mummy Says.
I also share ideas for events and days out on the Cardiff Mummy Says Instagram channel in particular Reels and Stories (see the Local Events Stories highlight).