Aladdin (Birmingham Hippodrome)
Birmingham's latest panto offering is a 'rare seasonal treat'
Big, brassy, extravagant: and that's just the doorman at the Birmingham Hippodrome. The pantomime itself is just as good, the jewel in the crown of Qdos Entertainment, written and directed by Michael Harrison, with input from Alan McHugh and various members of the cast.
As those members include an evil void that is Marti Pellow's Abanazer - he looks like Darth Vader on hunger strike - Lee Mead's boyish, floppy-haired Aladdin and Julian Clary's soignée Slave of the Ring, who's been in comic limbo for two thousand years ("Where was that?" "Wolverhampton"), there's quite a high strike rate of quality.
Well, every line seems to be there for a reason, just about, though, apart from the flying acrobats at the start of the second act, you don't really get much atmosphere of a Chinese laundry in downtown Peking. Widow Twankey (Andrew Ryan) is virtually a minor character, having shot his bolt early on with a juggling act with the fake boobs which move around alarmingly inside his jumper.
The widow and Abanazer - who has arrived from Egypt in search of the magic lamp, having been tipped off in the first scene by a monumental, very scary King Kong - stand on either side of the stage while Matt Slack's non-stop Wishee Washee rushes between them with a tongue-twister about a short-sleeved long shirt and a long-sleeved short shirt that is muddled with a short-sleeved short shirt.
Slack has emerged in the past few years as the funniest, most energetic Silly Billy in pantoland since Bobby Davro, and he has the personality wattage to fill a house like the Hippo as only a Davro, or a Brian Conley, can. This leaves the coast clear for Clary to stand around making tart remarks and foggy allusions to all the offstage activity in the back passages of old Peking. I'm not sure what the fashion statement is, but whatever Clary wears sparkles a lot, and he's got a ring the size of a hula hoop on his head, then a couple more recycled as ear-rings after the interval.
He and Lee Mead close the first act with a spectacular magic carpet sequence, wafting over the heads of the front stalls. They stick together through thick and thin, mostly thin; Clary's preferred exit line is to leave Mead alone to get on with singing "one of those dreary songs of yours." One of them, of course, is "Any Dream Will Do," and Clary punctuates the lyrics with hilarious snide put-downs.
Other musical items diffidently discharged by Clary include Beyoncé's "Put a Ring on it" and, dressed as glittering firefly, Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire." Marti Pellow has a song or two, and so does Emily Shaw's regulation order sweet and simple Princess Jasmine, but I honestly can't remember what they were. Not that it matters: the whole show is an absolute riot and a rare seasonal treat.
Aladdin runs at the Birmingham Hippodrome until 31 January.