Wolsey Aladdin serves a wok'n'roll treat

The New Wolsey Theatre's annual rock'n'roll pantomime has become the feelgood event of the season.

Andrew Clarke

Aladdin, New Wolsey Theatre, until January 30 2010

The New Wolsey Theatre's annual rock'n'roll pantomime has become the feelgood event of the season. It's loud, colourful, vibrant, full of silly jokes, mad-cap chase scenes, groan-inducing puns and a mountain of amazing rock'n'roll classics which are cleverly worked into the narrative by writer/director Peter Rowe and his writing partner Alan Ellis.

It's a toe-tapping, laugh-filled romp which will have up on your feet, stomping and clapping along by the end of the show. It's a brilliantly simple blend of ridiculous farce and good-time party music which instantly puts a smile on your face. Past shows have set a standard which would be hard to beat but this year's show is faster, louder and slicker than anything we have seen before.

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The cast is largely a collection of familiar faces from previous shows and they appear to be having a ball. Julian Harries, this year transferring across town from his usual gig at Eastern Angles, makes his dame debut with a saucy wink and the largest number double entendres you'll experience this side of a Carry On revue.

He is clearly relishing the opportunity to do something different but, alas, the size of Widow Twankey's chest prevents him from strapping on his accordion this year. Julian makes the most of his conversational style and develops a close rapport with the audience. He also works well with Johnson Willis as bad guy Abanazar. Willis is a wonderful villain and previously played Fleshcreep in Jack and the Beanstalk.

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The actor-musicians are as awe-inspiringly talented as ever, switching between acting, singing and playing a multitude of different instruments. Special mention must be given to New Wolsey regular Shirley Darroch as a wonderfully effervescent genie - her vocals get better each year - and to newcomer Francesca Loren as Nanas the Monkey who managed to stay in character even while playing saxophone, trumpet and trombone.

The music is seamlessly interwoven with the plot which has been rigorously updated and reworked since the New Wolsey last performed the show in 2002.

Stand-out songs this year are the wonderfully rocky Wild Thing, sang by Widow Twankey to Abanazar, a guitar-howling Born To be Wild, Roy Orbison's In Dreams and a show-stopping Dancing In The Streets.

The New Wolsey's Aladdin may not have a lot to do with ancient China but it has everything to do with having a great time at Christmas. Superb.

Andrew Clarke

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