Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

Fun and more fun in old Peking

Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp

Sutton Arts Theatre, Sutton Coldfield


EVERY pantomime year seems to produce a new favourite joke. This year, it involves King Tutankhamun, who is referred to as King Tooting Car Horn. It is amusing enough, but I have already heard it twice and the season has hardly started. 

This time, it crops up because Peking conversation has somehow worked round to ancient Egypt, in a show that finds writer Richard Aucott co-directing with Debbie Loweth as well as offering a Widow Twankey of sublime bonhomie who has an easy rapport with the audience – although in this respect the award of the potted palm must go to James Hutt's Wishy Washy, who somewhat literally rounds off his evening by arriving onstage in a globular costume. 

His amiability remains to the fore when he invites two youngsters to share his microphone – but it is rather disturbing when he makes it clear that  he is only able to talk with them on the stage apron, not on the stage itself. Big Brother, we gather, has scored another first. 

Christina Peak is a happily authoritative Aladdin who produces the second thigh-slap of my season, and who, according to the programme has “competed in dance ciopertissions for ballroom, Latin, freestyle and rock and roll.” Michelle Dawes (Princess Jasmine) is Aladdin's charming bride-to-be and Dexter Whitehead  is his arch-enemy Abanazar – who intermittently offers an unexpectedly charming smile. 


Aimée Hall is the delightful So-Shy who also catches  us on the hop with her irresistibly raucous contribution to a duet. Joseph Hicklin brings dignity to the Genie of the Lamp and Emily Armstrong is a Spirit of the Ring who has apparently dropped in from EastEnders. 

Mark Nattrass and Tomas Frater are Wong and Pong, the policemen of the piece, and there is royalty from the Emperor (Brian Todd) a touch of religion via the Priestess of the Pyramid (Pat Morris) and a surprising scatter of nobility from the Nissan of Nechells, the Skoda of Stechford and the Honda of Handsworth. 

There's lots of happiness around – in which connection, the very happy chorus includes a young lady who manages to out-smile everyone. I don't know who she is, but she is the only one whose harem pants are red, if that's a clue. On the downside, it is a shame that those four hard-working mites at the back never get a chance to form the front row. Also deserving of a medal, but again destined to go unrecognised right now is the youngster whose every arrival on stage consists of energetic acrobatics. Excellent! To 18-12-10

John Slim 

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