‘What has Aladdin got to do with Christmas?’, asked my son, aged 6, when I told him we were going to see the Arts Theatre’s Christmas pantomime. It’s a valid question. But then there’s not much logic to any part of the great British panto tradition – which is exactly what makes it so wonderful.
While trying to explain I realised that, though we’ve taken the boys to lots of Christmas shows in the past, they’ve never actually seen a proper, traditional, British family panto (boo, hiss to us!). I had a feeling that they would absolutely love it. I was right. What I didn’t expect, however, was to find the grown-ups (myself included) enjoying it just as much as the kids.
Aladdin at the Cambridge Arts Theatre is a wondrous, raucous magic carpet ride from start to finish. This year’s production sees celebrated West End director David Grindley at the helm, with Matt Crosby (the fragrant Widow Twankey herself) on writing duties, and the result is a masterful combination of all the traditional elements we parents expect (oh yes it is!) with fresh, modern touches to keep it really contemporary and sharp.
The real secret of a panto’s success is the interactive element, and Aladdin gets this spot on. My boys particularly enjoyed being encouraged to shout out ‘everything is awesome!’ each time Wishee Washee bounded on stage plus the feel-good addition of a couple of catchy current pop songs, including Happy by Pharell Williams and Katy Perry’s Roar. There are some great Cambridge jokes and references (mainly cyclists bearing the brunt) to make the show feel really local, and my sons were particularly excited to spot some friends in the dance troupe.
Of the talented cast it’s hard to pick out favourites, but we loved Stephen Beckett as the sneering, towering, boo-worthy villain Abu Nazir (anyone else pick up on the Homeland nod?), while Twankey and Wishee Washee are fantastic in the slapstick laundrette scene. The genie too, rocking some serious body glitter, deserves a mention not least for his amazing dance moves – which my boys have been trying to perfect ever since.
My memory of pantomimes from the 80s and 90s is that they were a bit naff and cheesy. But I needn’t have worried; Aladdin at the Cambridge Arts Theatre is a delight. The huge-scale song and dance numbers are fantastic and the comedy elements are perfectly pitched to keep both parents and children laughing along at the various in-jokes. We emerged into a chilly Cambridge night feeling thoroughly Christmassy, and I’m now determined to make a trip to the panto an annual family event.
Magic lamp or no, make sure one of your wishes this Christmas is for tickets to see Aladdin.
:: Runs until 11 January, various times and prices.