They say you never appreciate something until it has gone. Well, I would say you never realise just how much you missed something until it comes back.
That is definitely the case with panto at Cardiff’s New Theatre.
This year it is a massively entertaining show, a lavish production as always, packed with witty pandemic references, traditional banter, singalong dance routines, local jokes about parts of the city and neighbouring locations – and masses of heart-warming nonsense.
The writers of this year’s take on Aladdin have skilfully introduced plenty of puns and jokes about jabs and Pfizer and AstraZeneca with just a little risqué humour thrown in. It could have been in bad taste with an ongoing medical emergency, but it steered just the right side of well-intentioned comedy.
Denquar Chupak and Gareth Gates
There is no need for woke nonsense, no gender-swapping, planet-saving, social engineering rubbish. Instead, we have a glorious entertainment.
My Christmas is not complete without Mike Doyle’s Shirley Bassey impersonation, and I always wonder how it will be weaved into whatever panto is being presented. It was as hilarious as ever. Of course, what other role in this panto could be play than the scrubber, I mean laundrette owner, Widow Twankey. With increasingly outrageous and ridiculous costumes this consummate professional entertainer has us in stitches throughout.
This year he is paired in the comedy stakes with Paul Chuckle and even though the Chuckle Brothers were never really part of my childhood I shouted along with his apparently well-known hello welcome each time he appeared. The Chucklevision star was a lovable Wishee Washee and the kids in the audience adored his gentle family humour.
I wonder how many of the younger audience members know Gareth Gates as that Pop Idol final was nearly 20 years ago but we old timers (i.e. aged over 40) remember that final. In this show, he and Denquar Chupak as Aladdin and Princess Jasmine made for a sweet couple. Lorraine Brown was a formidable Empress and more could have been made of her role.
Gareth Thomas couldn’t be anything but a camp, well-built Genie in the Lamp called Alfie, while Stephanie Webber swirls in as Scherezade when summoned using a magic ring – many a joke was missed with that role.
The revelation of the night was a sensational Stefan Pejic as Abanazar. I had not come across him before and he was that special combination of evil and lovable rolled into one over-the-top role.
Directed by Matt Slack, while this is a traditional panto, there was not as much It’s behind You type of routines as you might expect, and compulsory face masks limited some aspects of audience participation. Similarly, due to Covid tots could not be brought up on stage but birthdays were celebrated and names of people who I guess are local celebrities in the audience mentioned.
What has now become a tradition, at least in Cardiff, are the patter routines that rely on tongue twisters and then the line-up of the characters waving around utensils they would have used had they followed other careers and naturally, occasionally whacking one another. Both always work.
I won’t spoil the fun but the magic carpet was a very impressive piece of theatricality.
If you are lacking in festive sprit or just need to be cheered up by a very professional while genuinely enthusiastically performed show, get your tickets now.
Aladdin is at the New Theatre in Cardiff until Sunday, January 2.
Main image Stefan Pejic and Gareth Gates
Images by Tim Dickeson
Paul Chuckle talks panto Paul Chuckle: Playing Wishy Washy
- Watch out for our family review of Aladdin