Aladdin review at Birmingham Hippodrome – ‘packs a punch’
The annual pantomime at the Birmingham Hippodrome is considered the jewel in the Qdos Entertainment crown. It's the last of its big Christmas line-up to open and regularly notches up more than 100,000 punters per year. This is the show that raises the stakes in terms of spectacle and stars and usually lays claim to being the biggest pantomime in the UK. This year, across town at the Barlcaycard Arena, Qdos co-founder Jon Conway's production of Cinderella might rival this one for size, but certainly not for quality.
This is a production with muscle and it packs a punch from the beat of Robert Willis' live orchestra to the flash and glamour of Mike Coltman's glitzy costumes. Michael Harrison returns for his sixth year at the venue and directs with consummate flair, maintaining attention to detail amid the breath-taking spectacle of it all. The show opens with King Kong and along the way there is a magic carpet ride created by stage illusionists the Twins FX, a 3D sequence and giant cobra for the finale.
In between all this Harrison's script still manages to thread together a coherent and entertaining plot. Marti Pellow as Abanazar may occasionally act as if he's appearing in a different show but gradually he warms to role of the baddie and of course, delivers his musical numbers with verve. Lee Mead as Aladdin still manages to pull off boyish charm with ease and pairs it with killer vocals that at one point, even upstage the magic carpet.
Julian Clary is unquestionably good value as the Slave of the Ring. There is absolutely no brake on his neatly turned double entendres that tip-toe gaily on the edge of appropriate family entertainment. Clary is a shoo-in for the grown-ups in the audience; individual and uncompromising, his role wreaks of old-school camp but sits perfectly at ease alongside Andrew Ryan's clowning Widow Twankey.
It takes a hardy comedian to hold his own here and Matt Slack fills that vacancy admirably. Back for his third year in Birmingham, Slack has established himself as a firm favourite with the town and his Wishee Washee doesn't disappoint. A tireless, versatile comedian Slack undertakes all the expected duties and even joins forces with gymnastic tumblers The Acromaniacs for a knockabout circus sequence.
Amid the cacophony of big musical numbers and pyrotechnics Harrison's script never loses sight of its intended audience. Neighbouring towns are suitably ridiculed, West Bromwich Albion's position in the league is referenced and the Genie of the Lamp speaks with a broad Brummie accent. A family adventure from the opening chords to the willow-pattern walk down, Aladdin is a pantomime that Harrison, Qdos and Birmingham can rightly be proud of.