Double Olivier Award winner Roger Allam and Maureen Lipman will join Ian McKellen (pictured) when he makes his pantomime debut as Widow Twankey in a new version of Aladdin at the West End’s Old Vic this Christmas (See News, 22 Apr 2004). The production – the second in the Old Vic Theatre Company’s inaugural season under artistic director Kevin Spacey – runs from 17 December 2004 to 22 January 2005.

Aladdin fulfils McKellen’s long-held ambition of playing a panto dame and also returns him to the Old Vic stage for the first time since a 1965 production of Much Ado About Nothing.

Commenting on the production, Spacey said: “Ian is one of the great actors of all time. We wanted to persuade him to return to a theatre he last played in nearly 40 years ago. He was ready for a fresh challenge and decided he’d like to do a pantomime, and one which is part of the Old Vic tradition – the theare staged Aladdin back in 1843.”

Explaining the lasting appeal of the classic British stage genre, McKellen added: “Pantomime has everything theatrical – song, dance, verse, slapstick, soliloquy, audience participation, spectacle, cross-dressing and a good plot, strong on morality and romance. What more could you want for a family outing?”

Allam, who will play Abbanazar, is currently starring in Democracy at the West End’s Wyndham’s Theatre. Amongst his many other recent stage credits are Summerfolk and Privates on Parade, both of which won him Oliviers. Lipman, who plays Dim Sum, was seen earlier this year playing a pseudo-Oriental landlady in Thoroughly Modern Millie, while her other West End credits include Peggy for You and Oklahoma!.

The cast also features Sam Kelly (currently in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum at the National) as the Emperor of China, Ramon Tikaram (Bombay Dreams, TV’s This Life) as Genie of the Lamp, Cat Simmons (We Happy Few, Simply Heavenly) as Princess, Owen Sharpe (Oliver Twist, She Stoops to Conquer ) as Hanky, Joanna Page (The Mysteries, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie) as Panky and, taking the title role of Aladdin, Joe McFadden (Rent, A Life in the Theatre, TV’s Crow Road).

“Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp” is one of the most famous tales from the Thousand and One Nights collection of stories. It was first staged at Covent Garden in 1788. The famous clown Grimaldi played in it in 1813, and in 1861 Widow Twankey made her first appearance as a character. This new version by Bille Brown is freely adapted from the Richard Burton’s translation of Thousand and One Nights.

Aladdin is directed by Sean Mathias - who directed McKellen in Strindberg’s Dance of Death which came to the West End last year after a Broadway run - and designed by John Napier, with costumes by Mark Bouman, lighting by Mark Henderson, sound by Fergus O’Hare and choreography by Wayne McGregor. The panto has original music by Gareth Valentine, with orchestrations by Christopher Walker.

Currently at the Old Vic, Spacey’s own production of Maria Goos’ Dutch play Cloaca - starring Hugh Bonneville, Adrian Lukis, Neil Pearson and Stephen Tompkinson as four friends reunited in middle age – continues until 11 December 2004.

- by Terri Paddock