Aladdin (Watford Palace Theatre)
You don't need a large cast to stage a pantomime, provided that the sets and costumes look lavish and that the story progresses sufficiently briskly and with some unusual twists to keep the audience, whatever its age range, focussed. Watford has made a virtue out of a degree of financial necessity with this year's production of Aladdin. What's more, Jack and the Beanstalk is already announced for the 2011 Christmas season.
The days when Abanazar was an out-and-out Middle Eastern villain are perhaps numbered. Instead writers Joanna Read and Stuart Thomas have made him a recession-hit banker. Peter Holdway, who knows how to put over a number even when the audience is cheerfully booing his character, revels in the part. Our hero is Craig Fletcher, whose Aladdin has a neat line in inventions – including a lie-detector, and he's matched by a high-kicking Jasmine (Frances McNamee), very much a self-assured (not to say self-willed) 21st century princess.
Wishy and Washy are conflated into Daniel Curtis, a good-natured brother who always seems to get the awkward jobs in Widow Twankey's laundry establishment. Alexander Delamere is a no-nonsense type of Dame carrying off some of Cleo Pettitt's more outrageous costumes, notably a dragon-writhing one for the walk-down. As the Emperor, Donovan Blackwood offers a more rounded characterisation that the part sometimes offers; he has a fine singing voice. Bethan Mary-James is a distinctly "not bovvered" Spirit of the Ring as well as PC Ping; Adam Ewan doubles Pong and a surfing dude Genie of the Lamp. Kate Saxon directs with Matt Greenwood in the pit..