Colchester’s Christmas cracker

Aladdin at Colchester Mercury until January 8.

This is a Christmas cracker, just right for the kids and the grown-ups with a clever mix of gags from joke books ancient and modern and plenty of music and movement to keep the toes tapping.

Janice Dunn gives her pantos the right magic. She treats the whole audience, young and old, as intelligent with up-to-the-minute references to the weather, computers, the World Cup football fiasco and the laughs tumble in a waterfall of fun.

But she never forgets the most important bit of all – the story, which includes a neat and very amusing way of finally dispatching the evil Abanazer.

These days, in order to be assured of an accurate all-round judgement, I take a couple of granddaughters (six and eight years) with me as ‘clapometers’ and they had a ball, often way ahead of me with the action, the jokes and certainly with the songs.

I never did learn the words to Ghostbusters or Ku Fu Fighting but at least I could join in with the Chinese laundry soap bubble song when they lowered the words down on a screen (first of all printed in mandarin, whoops, sorry!).

The beating heart of a good panto is not the love affair of the principals but a really good baddy and a Dame who can milk the laughs. This one’s got both. David Tarkenter’s Abanazer gets nicely up our noses right from the start by showering we in the audience with insults about our intelligence and our hygiene, and he remains wonderfully wicked until finally bottled up.

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Tim Treslove is back in outrageous frocks and gear as Widow Twankey – his dress for the royal wedding is a lulu – and he has a lot fun with Dale Superville’s Wishee Washee, including their soapy slapstick scene in the laundry, which includes the dame being run through a giant mangle.

Their bits of business with the poison darts, their moments of dance madness, their running gag about the emperor’s smalls and, particularly, Wishee’s chats with Dimples the talking Meerkat, are a delight.

Elizabeth Brown and Jai Vethamony are an easy-to-like Princess and Aladdin; and the introduction of three genies (one very camp) – Daniel Tawse, Clare Humphrey and Ingnatius Anthony gives the tale a bright twist.

Roger Delves-Brought makes a nicely muddled emperor and there’s some good hoofing from the team led by Cydney Uffindell-Phillips and the agile Holly Adams.

David Henshall.

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