First published in The Times, Thursday December 16 2021
Aladdin is one of the most reliable pantomime stories of all time, but this one seems to be suffering from an identity crisis. Are we in old Peking, the Middle East or somewhere closer to home? Is Abanazar (Sanjeev Kohli) a villain in the louche George Sanders mode, or is it just loveable Navid from the BBC sitcom Still Game? Even the hero, whom everyone else on stage calls Aladdin, would rather go by the more prosaic moniker of Gary.
Of course, this is not just any Gary, but the Tank Commander himself: the most famous creation of Greg McHugh, the actor and comedian. Star names and big personalities are required to fill up the large auditorium at the Armadillo, and McHugh doesn’t disappoint, winning over a new generation of audience members with his character’s camp, goofily endearing antics.
Indeed, several of the supporting cast are well-kent faces from television, which is gratifying, even if it means that Alan McHugh’s script relies a little too heavily on references to River City and Still Game, much of which sails over younger heads. Also lost on many members of the audience is the innuendo. Tony Cownie’s production is perhaps the rudest pantomime to grace this venue since the Krankies and John Barrowman last tread these boards.
If the jokes don’t always hit home and the leads are yet to find their feet, they’re bolstered by the show’s visual elements, not least the stunning costumes that are typical of Crossroads Pantomimes, wonderful lighting created by Tim Oliver and a dynamic ensemble of backup dancers, choreographed by Gerry Zuccarello. An extended magic carpet ride, which we watch on a big screen through 3D glasses, provokes fairground-level squeals.
The show is at its best when it foregrounds the human element, however. Brian James Leys and Blythe Jandoo (as the Emperor and Princess Jasmine) take the singing honours while McHugh’s warmth and capacity to whip up the audience is matched by Leah MacRae’s fine turn as Widow Twankey. The self-styled “biggest scrubber in town” has a booming voice and a nice line in patter and adlibs that is ideally suited to this most raucous of pantos.
Box office: 0141 576 3230, to Dec 29. Sec.co.uk