There is no expense spared on everything at the Wimbledon panto this year, apart from the script. And making jokes about how bad the script is soon wears thin. Did you need reminding, for instance, that you should never play leapfrog with a unicorn? Or that the Peking police force is armed to the teeth with machine gums?
Oh, all right, not that bad after all. It's just that Jo Brand, making a panto debut as the Genie of the Ring, looks as though she'd rather be undergoing a full frontal lobotomy than wandering around on a stage, giving the impression that surgery might have happened anyway. There is obviously a huge yawning gap between stand-up comedy and skilled comedy acting, and Brand's filling it perfectly.
The stars of the show are those wicked Peking policemen, played by a dance act called Flawless who appeared on Britain's Got Talent four years ago. They body-pop, rap, rumble and tumble like nobody's business, chasing Oliver Thornton's fresh-faced Aladdin (curiously smitten with Claire-Marie Hall's sweetly anodyne Princess Jasmine) through the back streets of Old Peking and re-emerging as the cabaret in Abanazer's Egyptian lair, lighting up, "black theatre-style," as a bunch of illuminated skeletons.
There is an unashamed music hall quality about Ian Talbot's production, which incorporates an excellent flying carpet, tried and tested backchat routines in the laundry (where Matthew Rixon's policeman Pong goes through the wringer and comes out flat as a cardboard cut-out), lots of fireworks and fountains and a blue Wedgwood-themed wedding walk-down.
Matthew Kelly's Widow Twankey is spectacularly kitted out as a huge pot noodle, a washing powder box with a surf-wave wig and as an Egyptian mummy with a Nefertiti bust and head-piece. David Bedella is a splendidly sinister Abanazer, too, and there are notable contributions from Shaheen Jafargholi (the Michael Jackson dude from Britain's Got Talent) as a non-stop singing Genie of the Lamp, John Conroy as the Emperor and South African comic Alan Committie as a likeable Wishee Washee.
The children at the matinee I went to screamed the place down and didn't seem to mind the more explicitly blue jokes, sight gags and references (far too many of them), nor the weirdly inappropriate opening filmed advert for a Shrek DVD of the recent stage musical.