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Dec 6, 2021
Leicester Mercury

"bursting with festive feel-good fun!"

This show really does ensure you’re full of festive spirit

Panto season has begun, and for many of us - me included - a visit to one of these fun family shows is an integral part of the festivities.

One of the first Leicestershire pantos to open this year is Loughborough Town Hall’s production of Aladdin, which was postponed last year due to the pandemic.

The show has been produced by Little Wolf Entertainment, which has been responsible for many past award-winning productions.

I’ve heard great things about the pantos at this Loughborough venue - including from my eldest son, who has been on school trips in previous years. However, I’ve never been before, so I was keen not to miss out on the opportunity this time around!

The audience was eagerly involved from the off, booing as evil Abanazar - played with a wonderful wickedness by Simon Kingsley - appeared on stage.

He told us about the fall of Siri and Scheherazade the former rulers of the land, banished to a lamp and a ring, and of his dastardly plan to dupe the 'chosen one' into entering the tomb where the lamp is buried so he can make the treasure his.

Already in possession of the ring, he summoned Siri, who can conjure up almost anything her master wants, from chocolate cake that's not too sickly to winning the final dance-off on Strictly. Handy.

Siri of the Ring and Scheherazade (aka Genie of the Lamp) along with the amusingly titled PC Brigade, are played by Ella-Jane Thomas, who I thought was wonderful, bringing the characters to life with sass and humour. She also did well to manage some very quick costume changes!

We were soon swept off to Shangri-La where we met the chosen one - cheeky young Aladdin who's working in a pottery with his mum until he makes it as an 'influencer' and can buy the biggest house in Mountsorrel.

Kristian Cunningham, who plays the titular character, had a great energy and stage presence, and excellent vocals too - showcased in many of the well known songs given an Aladdin twist by Little Wolf, such as Uptown Funk and Levitating.

As well as providing the main cast members with a chance to show off their vocals and dance moves, a number of the songs also featured the talented company, made up of local young people, which is always nice to see.

Aladdin spends his days with his cute yet naughty pet monkey Marmaduke and his mum, Tamara Twankey - potter, widow and retired home schooler - who received a huge round of applause when she came on stage, wearing her lockdown dress, so called because 'everyone's desperate to get me out of it.' It was one of an array of gob-smacking outfits worn by the dame - also including a treasure chest and a pyramid!

Having been unlucky in love, she found herself a handsome suitor in the form of front row audience member, Alan, who proved to be a very good sport, getting involved in antics including a priceless scene at the potter's wheel which was reminiscent of a certain 1990 romantic film.

It's little wonder James Peake was named Best Dame in the 2020 Great British Pantomime Awards, as he was superb in the role, firing out gags left, right and centre, with comic timing as dazzling as the dresses he wore.

Aladdin's love interest, Princess Amirah, was played by Darcy Manning, who had a beautiful singing voice. The princess's strong-willed personality was contrasted by her gentle, slightly bumbling father, Sultan Pepper - played by TJ Lloyd. The sultan was certainly an endearing character - as Tamara Twankey soon realised.

There was jokes aplenty - from those that received groans to those that caused big belly laughs, with lots of references to local places and the pandemic ("It's a corona joke - we have to wait two weeks to see if you've got it") There was also a few innuendos for the adults!

There was some tender moments between Aladdin and Amirah, and a well performed rendition of Something Stupid which would have been romantic were it not for Marmaduke the monkey!

Of course, Evil Abenazar threw a spanner in the works when he managed to get his hands on the lamp and commanded Scheherazade to transport Aladdin’s palace to a barren land far away.

There followed one of the most incredible moments of the show - when Aladdin took to his magic carpet to find his love. The sight of the carpet hovering over the first few rows was met with lots of wows and oohs from the audience, and was one of many wonderful effects used during the show.

The sets, created in Coventry by Belgrade Production Services, were spectacular, from the streets of Shangri-La to Ancient Egypt, and all displayed great attention to detail. I particularly enjoyed reading the amusing signs in the pottery.

Whilst in ancient Egypt, we enjoyed an excellent performance of ‘Mummy Mia’ compete with lots of 'he's behind you' moments, and an amusing Benny Hill-style chase sequence as our hero tried to regain the lamp. Fortunately thanks to his mum’s excellent general knowledge (aided rather a lot by Amirah) it ended up in the right hands.

It was a happy ending for all, including the genie(s) who, with a bit of help from the audience, was released before leading a celebratory medley of songs beginning appropriately with Freedom, which showed off her powerful voice.

This feel-good show really does ensure you’re full of festive spirit by the time you leave the auditorium.

My boys were very impressed by what they saw - so much so they were repeating bits of the dialogue and songs for days afterwards!

Aladdin will be at Loughborough Town Hall until January 2, so I strongly suggest you get your tickets before he flies off on his magic carpet again!

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