Every year, the Wolverhampton Grand Theatre presents one of the very best pantomimes in the country and this yuletide, it’s the turn of Aladdin and his flying carpet to swoop into the city centre venue for a run of five fun-filled weeks of fine family entertainment, and believe me, it’s a pantomime as polished as the hero’s new lamp!
The show oozes magical moments, with a stellar cast including Pop Idol’s songbird Zoe Birkett, EastEnders bad boy Michael Greco and the hilarious Tam Ryan, one of the best panto comedians in the business.
The anticipation of the packed audience was tangible, even in the foyer with families gathering, and as everyone waited eagerly for the curtain to rise.
Remember those days of sheer excitement from your childhood when Christmas was almost here? Well, I could make a million if I bottled the feeling in the Grand Theatre last night!
From the off the show was a visual delight, with stunning scenery, superb lighting effects and effective back projections transporting us to Old Peking. It was pacey, smooth and very well directed, with effective choreography and sophisticated special effects creating pure enchantment.
Just wait until you see the magic carpet! It is nothing short of amazing! No spoilers here. That’s all I am going to say because you need to see it for yourself.
In fact, the show was the perfect mix of old and new (rather like Aladdin’s lamps!) – a modern pantomime with a time-honoured traditional feel, providing the ultimate in family entertainment.
Aladdin has everything; a funny slapstick routine, the old “it’s behind you” with mummies rather than ghosts, and an expertly penned song all about the districts of Wolverhampton which must have really taken some learning.
Pop hits including Domino, Let Me Entertain You and Relight My Fire had been reworded to fit in with the storyline, and were expertly executed by musical director Lawrence Stannard and his superb band. This guy may be young, but boy is he talented.
The little ones were aghast to see their hero, CBeebies star Ben Cajee in the title role, which he played with boyish charm, while Duane Gooden delighted as the Genie, with no inhibitions whatsoever! This was inspired casting.
Zoe Birkett as the Spirit of the Ring brought glamour as well as humour to the proceedings and what a voice! She must surely be one of the best West End stars to appear in pantomime this Christmas.
Now a dame should never be confused with a drag queen and Grand Theatre favourite, Ian Adams, is the epitome of the traditional pantomime character, in this case Widow Twankey, complete with a totally outrageous wardrobe and washing machine headdress!
Grand Theatre panto regulars couldn’t wait to hear his signature tune, I Don’t Care, and he didn’t disappoint.
Michael Greco may be the definitive baddie, but still retains his dangerous charm for the mums in the audience, while Wolverhampton lass (and proud of it) Sofie Anné as Jasmine, is clearly following in the footsteps of her aunt, our city’s own Beverley Knight. She was charming with a vocal performance to die for.
It’s very easy to overlook the hard-working ensemble members in theatre, but this group definitely deserve a special mention, as they were the backbone of the show. It was also nice to see a diverse troupe of dancers, making strides for inclusion of everyone in theatre performance today.
Another Wolverhampton performer, Ian Billings, gave a seasoned performance as The Notary, but the star of the night was undoubtedly Tam Ryan as Wishee Washee. What can I say? He is pure panto gold and more than a rival for Birmingham’s Matt Slack.
Comedic timing, perfect delivery of gags and the ability to hold the audience in the palm of his hand, not to mention bridging the gap between old and young, equals panto perfection!
I laughed until my cheeks ached; then I laughed again and again! He is relentless, but in the very best way!
Times may be tough, but Aladdin at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre is a must see. It is guaranteed to raise the spirits and send you home with a grin and a giggle, long after the curtain comes down. All in all, it’s an absolute Christmas cracker!
Visit grandtheatre.co.uk or call 01902 429212 to book tickets and remember to ask about offers. There is something to suit every pocket. You can also follow Wolverhampton Grand Theatre on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for more information.