Theatre review: Aladdin and the Twankeys @ York Theatre Royal

Published by theartsdesk

VIDEO: Aladdin and the Twankeys trailer

The best bit was the Wagon Wheels. Frisbeed, they were, towards the audience's outstretched arms and expectant faces, with the precision of a man who's been doing it for the past 35 years. With the assurance of a cult hero whose presence continues to dominate the York pantomime tradition.

They love Berwick Kaler here (seriously, how many local celebrities have much-admired ice sculptures of themselves in their city centre?) and the affection is mutual. "This isn't a pantomime, it's a family reunion!" declared the writer, co-director and indisputable star of Aladdin and the Twankeys, which is, remarkably, his fifth version of the classic tale, following 2005's The Lad Aladdin and previous productions in 1997, 1989 and 1981. As Britain's longest-serving pantomime dame had earlier quipped to a crowd member who claimed to have attended his shows for the past decade: "Oh, a newcomer, are you?"

Joining Kaler for this memorable festive knees-up were regular favourites Martin Barrass — who has spent much of 2013 appearing in the West End production of One Man, Two Guvnors — in the dual role of Wisehopper and Mankee, Suzy Cooper as Princess Peke-a-Boo, Sian Howard as the Empress of China, AJ Powell as the Genie of the Bling, Jonathan Race as the villainous Abanazer, and Canadian actor Alexander Braatz in the title role of Aladdin.

The two golden rules of pantomime — daftness and naffness — were impeccably observed, along with the cheeky puns and in-jokes that had our hands red-raw from all the clapping. There were, however, a few unexpected breaks with tradition. For starters, there was actually a plot, in which Abanazar seeks out China's oldest man to guide him to Aladdin, the Chosen One, whom he believes will lead him to untold riches - before discovering that Aladdin has an identical twin brother (who looks nothing like him), while the Genie of the Bling keeps knocking himself out and waking up thinking he's someone else. OK, a plot-ish.

Visually stunning costumes and surreal, anarchic sets were far, far too good, and several video montages of the cast's comical musical escapades around York made this certainly the first multimedia pantomime I'd ever seen. Plus, a camp-as-you-like cameo by Christopher Biggins — currently gracing Hull New Theatre's stage in Jack and the Beanstalk — simply cannot go without mention.

I suspect that if members of the audience were granted one wish, they wouldn't have changed a single aspect of this show. (In any case, I think I may have used mine to make myself invisible when Kaler began scouring the audience for a "volunteer".)

After one final sing-song, Kaler bidded his spirited followers farewell. "See you all next year!" he said, and they will — for this veteran entertainer's camaraderie with the cast, audience, venue and city adds an extra dimension to this seasonal treat of all seasonal treats. Across the country right now, homesick minor celebrities sit in dressing rooms, crossing dates off their performance calendars. Not here, not ever.


Aladdin and the Twankeys continues until 1 February 2014


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