It’s that time of year again when cross-dressing leads make you laugh and audiences become passionate ‘boo-ers’ and ‘ahhhhhh-ers’ and spontaneity on the stage is deemed entirely acceptable. This year it’s a Peking Panto, as the Manchester Opera House presents us the renowned and much loved tale of the mystical adventures of Aladdin.

The show does not fail in meeting audience expectations, incorporating slapstick, audience participation and eclectic music that panto lovers will simply adore. Rejecting tradition, nonetheless, the principal boy is played by the gorgeous Chris Fountain, a definite bonus for any ‘drooling, goggle-eyed females’ (as quoted by Widow Twankey herself- or should I say himself!?) The Hollyoaks star throws some impressives shapes and gives a praiseworthy (albeit cheesy) performance singing on the magic carpet. I won’t reveal any secrets- just make sure you go and see for yourself!

Gray O’Brien, familiar with playing a baddy on the cobbles, is a pitch perfect Abanazar. If you’re not a Corrie fan, however, you may miss some of the frequent ‘in-jokes.’ To quote a lady behind me, "Ooh, he slipped into a Scottish accent then, didn’t he?!" Yes dear, that’s  the joke. O'Brien embraces the material and runs with it throughout and is a joy to watch.

Sue Devaney (the northern Genie of the Lamp) and Mike McClean (the dizzy Wishee Washee) also stand out in their parts, as their comedic roles provide many hysterical moments of pure entertainment. A ballet sequence with the Dame, played superbly by Eric Potts, and a hilarious ventriloquist act with selected members of the audience, makes Mclean, especially, shine. With his comic timing and comfort in character, it is no surprise that he has already appeared in a stupendous 17 pantomimes!

The role of Princess Jasmine has always been a tedious and stereotypical one, lines such as "Oh, Aladdin!" and "Yes father" hardly offering a challenge to any actress. Eloise Irving is pretty and she is undoubtedly adored by little girls in the audience and and what you hear of her soprano voice is engaging. Yet, her only solo is not well-known and unfortunately does not show her off to the best of her vocal ability. As with most principal girls, Jasmine is there to provide a love interest for the principal boy. Maybe I’m just bitter at the fact she gets to kiss Chris Fountain...

Although the Chinese Policeman, Nick Newbould performed suitably well on his own, I feel that his part would have had more significance if it had been part of a double act.

Encompassing the funniest selection of sing-along songs, an impressive juvenile and senior chorus and beautiful finale costumes, Aladdin is a feel-good family show that is not to be missed this Christmas!

 - Rebecca Cohen