Aladdin and the Twankeys (York)
If Berwick Kaler's ''Aladdin and the Twankeys'' at the York Theatre Royal doesn't get you feeling festive, check you're birth certificate - you may just be called Ebeneezer
The big mistake I made when I took my seat for Aladdin and the Twankeys, my first York panto (and probably the first panto I'd attended since Berwick Kaler began his record-breaking York run 34 years ago), was to have my "serious" reviewer's head on.
The props look cheap, I noted, most of the jokes are older than a Pharaoh's tomb and some of the dance numbers would not have been out of place in a 1970's Summertime Special.
It was not until the "Sand Dance" in Act Two that the penny finally dropped for me. Everything is deliberate. Kaler's pantomime is stoically, unashamedly traditional. In a Christmas season where so many theatres seem desperate to crowbar in modern twists on classic stories, Kaler knows what works, he knows exactly what his audience wants, and he gives it to them in spades.
Corny jokes, pratfalls, slapstick set-pieces, lots of song and dance and more costume changes than a Fancy Dress Shop window, Aladdin and the Twankeys delivers everything this savvy panto audience could wish for.
Central to the audience's enjoyment are York panto stalwarts Suzy Cooper and Martin Barrass, both of whom are cheered like old friends when they first come on to the stage. Barrass' physicality, in particular, is crucial to keeping the high energy levels going throughout; he is constantly buzzing around the stage like the living embodiment of Arthur Askey while still managing to pull off some pretty impressive quick-changes.
Amongst all the old-school mayhem, it is worth noting that co-director Damian Cruden and his team still make room for a couple of unexpectedly spectacular theatrical flourishes. Credit must also go to the colourful and flamboyant set and costumes of Phil R. Daniels and Charles Cusick Smith.
A few days before this performance, a stranger on a train had reliably informed me that the traditional Wagon Wheels were no longer part of the show for Health & Safety reasons. This news saddened me greatly, but I can happily report that this information was not as reliable as implied, so keep your wits about you, even if you're sat in the Dress Circle!
Tradition is so much in the DNA of this production that before the final sing-along I was already working out when my young children would be old enough to bring along so we could start our own tradition, just like so many families in the audience obviously had.
Aladdin and the Twankeys continues at York Theatre Royal until 1 February 2014.