Alan Wooding reviews Aladdin at Milton Keynes Theatre
Joe Pasquale and Lee Mead head the cast in Aladdin, another fun-filled family spectacular courtesy of Qdos Entertainment.
This year the Milton Keynes pantomime takes us all the way from Ancient Egypt to Old Peking and back where we meet up with Aladdin, his hapless brother Wishee Washee plus a traditional over-the-top dame and the boy's outrageous mum, Widow Twankey.
Joe Pasquale is no stranger to Milton Keynes audiences as he starred as King Arthur in Monty Python's Spamalot back in the summer of 2015, 11 years after being crowned King of the Jungle in ITV’s I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here! He's also been a regular at the Royal Variety Show and has even played the part of a reincarnated Frank Spencer in the stage version of Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em.
As Wishee Washee, he's an absolute star and he produces the usual slapstick routines which has the youngsters in stitches while he delivers several cheeky (and sometimes smutty) one-liners which has the rest of the audience grinning from ear to ear.
Appearing as Aladdin, this is Lee Mead's first taste of this particular theatre although he is no stranger to pantomime. So far he's starred in six Qdos productions including playing Prince Charming in Cinderella at the London Palladium.
Lee rose to fame after winning the BBC show Any Dream Will Do after which he starred in Andrew Lloyd Webber's Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, which also successfully aired at the Palladium. Lee is also well-known for playing nurse Ben 'Lofty' Chiltern on Saturday night television's Casualty and then again in the midweek spin-off Holby City.
Naturally Lee had to perform a rendition of Any Dream Will Do early in the show which had most of the auditorium singing along while Joe comically raced around him wearing the coat of many colours!
But it was David Robbins as Chinese laundry proprietor Window Twanky who really adds to the craziness. She/he has so many changes of costume although the 'fat suit with swinging tassels' brought about the biggest laugh. Meanwhile he was also instrumental in the If I Were Not Upon The Stage sketch with Aladdin, Wishee Washee and The Empress (Debra Michaels) which has been a crowd-pleaser in so many different pantomimes over the years.
Also making a return to Milton Keynes Theatre was Tegan Bannister who plays Princess Jasmine. Her last appearance was as Èponine in the touring production of Les Misérables and like Lee, she has also appeared in BBC One's Casualty.
Unfortunately, Tegan really doesn't get to sing enough, apart from the odd duet with Lee. Meanwhile another key cast member is Sarah Earnshaw as Scheherazade the Slave of the Ring. She always appears in a puff of smoke after being summoned when Aladdin twists a special ring on his finger three times. Sarah's is also a narrative role which she carries off extremely well.
There is an ensemble consisting of eight dancers while Milton Keynes-based Dancebox Studios provides a talented Red and Blue team of youngsters who alternate between shows.
Aladdin is a panto that has everything – including six dancing pandas and four waddling penguins – while as expected, both the costumes and scenery are sensational and the flying carpet sequence with Lee and Joe aboard is absolutely fabulous as it actually comes right out over the audience and somehow manages a complete somersault.
There's also a rather large elephant, an oversized blue genie plus a giant hooded cobra which Princess Jasmine kills having been whisked away from Peking to Egypt by evil panto baddie Abanazar (Phil Corbett) who tricks Widow Twanky into swapping the old magic lamp for a shiny bright new one.
Aladdin is two hours and 15 minutes of unadulterated family fun.
. * The show runs at Milton Keynes Theatre until Sunday January 12. Tickets cost from from £14. Call 0844 871 7652 or visit www.atgtickets.com/MiltonKeynes to book. The best availability is before Christmas and especially the 7pm show on Friday December 20.