The panto at Dartford Orchard Theatre starts with a bang. Literally. No gradual dimming of the lights and gentle mentions to turn off your mobile phone! Having got our attention it proceeds to hold it across the whole show with a succession of spectacular moments and perfectly executed comedy routines.
The big name is Marti Pellow who plays the baddie, Abanazar, nemesis to our hero Aladdin. He exudes menace and plays the part dead straight, as it should be, despite the sometimes chaotic comic scenes going on around him. He looks the part, he moves like a snake and sounds devilish.
Comedy is provided by Ricky K as Wishee Washee and David Robbins as Widow Twankey. Ricky K is a bundle of boundless energy and enthusiasm who delivers the requisite panto jokes with enough of a twinkle to sell even the oldest of them with conviction. David Robbins is a brilliant Dame, making every entrance in a different costume (all of which he designs) and wig (all of which he makes), each more outrageous than the last. I should mention at this point that all the comedy is very family friendly with only a couple of double entendres and some mild innuendo, so this a proper, traditional family panto and great way to introduce children to the magical qualities of theatre.
It was a pleasure to see again Landi Oshinowo as the glamorous Empress of China, having seen her this time last year in the musical Big Fish with Kelsey Grammer. Alexis Gerred does a fine job as Aladdin, with an extremely likeable stage presence in a part which can so easily be bland but which he makes entertaining and watchable. Stephanie Elstob is a beautiful Princess Jasmine, the subject of Aladdin’s desires, but struggles to inject much personality into an under written part. Where she comes into her own, though, is in the big dance routine in Act Two. Lucy Van Gasse, however, as Scheherazade (effectively Aladdin’s fairy godmother) shows what can be done with a small part, bringing her own sparkle to the sparkly effects which greet her entrances.
It is slightly disappointing that the music is pre-recorded as, although it sounds great, the presence of a live band is always better. But the money saved in the pit appears to have ended up on the stage. The show is a visual spectacle. The sets are beautiful and there are some amazing moments, such as a stage-filling King Kong (don’t ask why or how he ends up in Aladdin!), a breathtaking magic carpet ride, a stunning 3D flight and a giant serpent. All of which contribute to this being quite the most spectacular pantomime.