PANTO REVIEW: Cresset delivers yet again

Alison Hammond as the Genie
Alison Hammond as the Genie
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The Cresset Theatre, Peterborough

Sunday, December 14

If you’ve had a great time watching Cinderella in Spalding but still haven’t had your fill of seasonal panto then this could be the show to make your Christmas complete.

This performance, presented by The Cresset and Premier Pantomimes, is the classic stage Aladdin.

It combines the historic folk tale added to the Arabian Nights volume in the 18th Century with the Widow Twankey launderette scenes adapted years later – plus songs from the more recent Disney animation.

And, of course, it includes the “big name” which this year was ITV This Morning and BBC Strictly Come Dancing star Alison Hammond.

Unlike Ricky Groves last year, Hammond’s role didn’t dominate the script, but the Genie in the Lamp is obviously integral to the plot and she carried it out with comic aplomb.

Indeed, the site of a chunky, grinning woman dancing like a small child to MC Hammer’s “You Can’t Touch This” every time the lamp is rubbed does not get boring.

Stealing the show for me was the wonderful Zach Vanderfelt, back for the fourth year at the Cresset, as Widow Twankey.

His outrageous outfits and terrible jokes are always a highlight and this year one was so bad that the sound technician even forgot the jokey sound effect.

Also back for a fourth time is the impressive Lawrence Stebbings as the evil Abanazar.

Also catching the eye was Mitch Hewer, making his panto debut as Aladdin.

Well known for TV roles in Channel 4 drama Skins and ITV music drama Britannia High, Hewer wowed the crowd by combining the singing, dancing and comedy needed by the leading man.

Ashley Bowden played the simple Wishee Washee superbly in a performance that won him lots of young friends.

Emily Adama shone in her dual role of Princess Jasmine and Slave of the Ring, so well in fact that I didn’t realise until afterwards that she was playing both roles. She knows how to belt out a tune too.

And the funny policemen Hokey and Cokey came to life through the skills of Peter McCrohon and George Dee, the chase scene with Aladdin among the Cresset crowd a major highlight. McCrohon also doubled up impressively as the Emperor.

And I must give special mention to the local Company Dancers, all picked after open auditions at The Cresset. They were great as villagers and animals, especially as baby pandas in the Cave of Jewels. And as for the “scary” dinosaur... brilliant.

All in all this was exactly the kind of terrific panto we have come to expect from The Cresset and from director John Newman, also back for a fourth consecutive stint.

And it’s definitely one for all the family... as evidenced by the 20-something woman behind me who never stopped screaming out her parts of audience participation.

Aladdin runs at The Cresset Theatre until December 30, with George Dee filling in for Alison 
Hammond because of Strictly commitments on December 17, 18 and 20.

By Jeremy Ransome – 8/10