It was a cold December evening, but by the time we’d walked through Keel Square past the Christmas market and outdoor skating rink and were greeted by the beautifully ornate Sunderland Empire, we were definitely feeling festive.
I had two very excited little boys in tow, but also a panto-reluctant husband who was less than convinced this was going to be an enjoyable experience. So Aladdin had its work cut out for it.
However as soon as the show kicked off it was impossible to resist its charms. It’s a familiar story made even more so by the Disney film. Penniless local boy Aladdin falls for the charms of an out-of-reach princess, and with the help of a magic lamp, flying carpet, and a genie or two he gets the girl and a whole lot of adventures to boot.
It was as sparkly and camp as the contestants on Strictly Come Dancing. Huge elaborate set designs that shimmered with Eastern promise, and costumes with bags of sequin-appeal. Talking of Strictly, 2014 contestant Alison Hammond quick-stepped onto the stage as Slave of the Ring. Panto is the perfect home for the humorous TV star, and she basked in the audience’s affection for her cheesy jokes and Strictly references. She was all my six year old could talk about on the metro home.
Abanazar, played by Coronation Street actor Terence Maynard, filled his green-lit baddie role with a booming voice and bags of dastardly behaviour. But when it came to his singing, the audience’s boos quickly changed to cheers of appreciation for his powerful soul rendition. But for me it was the top-class pantomime dame Widow Twanky (played by the show’s director Ian Good), and Wishee Washee (played by Channel 5 Milkshake’s chipper Derek Moran) who stole the show and had the audience in stitches with their own brand of chaotic, and at times clearly ad-libbed, scenes.
The best skit in the entire panto centres around the 12 days of Christmas song worked up to include items bought at the local shops. This was clearly the work of seasoned panto artistes – the audience was howling with laughter. I sneaked a sideways glance at my panto-phobic husband at this point, and even he was having a chuckle. Be prepared for flying loo rolls and a good soaking from some water pistols if you’re sitting near the front!
If you’re wondering about the flying carpet, when Aladdin climbs aboard to rescue Princess Jasmine from Abanazer’s evil clutches the special effects had my kids enchanted. I don’t want to give too much away, but rest assured there’s never a dull moment with high energy antics, audience participation a-plenty and stacks of local jokes to get the audience on side. Aladdin certainly worked his magic on us!
Aladdin is playing at the Sunderland Empire until Sunday 3 January 2016. For more information and to book tickets visit www.atgtickets.com/sunderland