REVIEW: Aladdin at Cambridge Arts Theatre

Matt Crosby as Widow Twankey.

Matt Crosby as Widow Twankey. - Credit: Archant

At the venue until Sunday, January 11.

This is a brilliant pantomime, one of the best the Arts has staged. A witty show that sparkles and sizzles. The audience did not stop laughing. The performances are splendid, the gags are so good there was no need to use the time-honoured line: “They don’t get any better”, because they were getting belly laughs.

There is no let-up on the fun. The audience enjoys every moment, adults are laughing and children are sitting on the edge of their seats. The slap-stick in the laundry scene is a riot and in the occasional still sequence, it lifts your heart with beautiful voices. Sometimes it does both at once.

From the moment Lauran Rae, as Inanna, the Genie of the Ring, opens the show with the song When You Believe, you believe you are in for a good time and that great feeling stays with you right up to the finale and as you leave the theatre.

And when Widow Twankey, the inestimable Matt Crosby, who over the past 10 years has developed from the Idle Jack character to become the Definitive Dame, joins Sam Hoye’s lithe Wishee Washee to sing Bring Him Home, the heart-wrenching number from Les Mis, it’s an inspired moment and an absolute scream.

Washee’s voice is full of surprises - who thought a laundry man could sink so low. Hoye flows through the show. He’s so natural on the stage, you can’t believe that when he goes home, he doesn’t continue to do handstands down the street.

Crosby is delicious as Widow Twankey. He is like a layer cake full of strawberries and cream. He is sunshine in the middle of winter. Ooh you want a slice of him. But he is much more nice than naughty. There is no smut in this show. He is a Dame for today. His costumes are diva divine. (Thank you, designer Sue Simmerling, they light up our life).

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Mae West, whose admirable bosom Crosby has homaged, was right. Too much of a good thing is wonderful. He glides across the stage bringing delight in every line.

I would say, he owns this show, but actually they all do. Directed by David Grindley, this is an immaculate, ensemble cast, right down to the cute juvenile who is given a line. The two casts of children are called Team Ping and Team Pong and it’s all as fast as a table tennis match.

And who more dastardly a villain than Rada-trained, gorgeous Stephen Beckett to play Abanazer. He was PC Jarvis in The Bill and has a recurring role as Dr Ramsden in Coronation Street but with his delectable diction and magnificent stature, he was born to play the baddie in the most engaging way possible. Hisses from the first moment he appears.

The days of insipid princesses are gone. We are all feminists now. Philippa Stefani as the Princess (she doesn’t have a name) and Lowri Walton as Aladdin made the characters so strong you do actually care about them.

It’s a myth that pantomime performances are not proper acting and that the script is not tightly rehearsed down to every ad lib and pretend fall-over. In many ways, panto is the finest form of theatre because it pays tribute to all the rest.

Richard Earl as the impoverished Emperor of Peking is as down to earth as anyone’s broke dad. Another gem is when Earl and Crosby sing a duet of You’re Timeless to Me from Hairspray, Flanagan and Allen would be applauding.

And Cavin Cornwell, with his rippling muscles and six-pack is a Genie of the Lamp who is not just a pretty face. He sparkles in every sense and not just because he is covered in glitter.

It’s a fast-paced, rip-roaring, very funny, heart-warming, super spectacular show. The best family Christmas present in Cambridgeshire.