STAGE REVIEW: Aladdin at the Festival Theatre, Malvern, from Thursday, December 12, 2019 to Sunday, January 5, 2020.

THIS traditional panto production has all the hallmarks of a festive treat for the whole family.

If being somewhat picky though, there’s a spot of adjustment required in a few places.

The priority is to consider the panto's duration, running at three hours - including the interval, and it could be argued it’s a shade too long as it’s quite a challenge to keep very young minds fully occupied.

So if Aladdin can be shortened, and I don’t mean taking off his head as was threatened, it should ensure everyone takes ‘a shine’ to what’s on offer.

A pair of scissors taken to extensive dialogue, not a lot, but a touch of pruning in places should also do the trick. It’s okay for mums, dads and other relatives but its a lot for less mature minds to take in.

It really is a case of swapping new lamps for old!

In spite of this it’s still thoroughly enjoyable, packs a whole bag of fun and has seasoned professionals in its ranks such as the ebullient Mark James, who is making the Festival his home production theatre for pantomimes, and the evergreen John Challis, for whom this is a fairly local stomping ground.

Once again Mark James, who is Wishee Washee, is outstanding thanks to an exceptional rapport with the audience, especially the children and there’s lots of quality elsewhere with the whole cast buying into his sense of fun.

John Challis tackles the villain of the night Abanazar, with great relish, enjoying the boos and hisses, throwing them back, and even dropping into his wonderful role of Boycie, from the outstanding tv comedy series of Only Fools and Horses. 

Opening night problems did occur much to everyone’s delight - even the cast! So well done to them for making light of little issues and for poking fun at themselves as they made the most of unenforced script errors and other unintended blips.

The ghost scene was as popular as usual and the slapstick routine in the laundry was a highlight, especially when the slippery soapy suds helped to upend PC Pong, played with great fun by Danny Rogers, the son of the late comedian Ted. You can see the likeness.

No weaknesses anywhere with everyone much at home in their parts such Aaron Jenson as Aladdin, Loula Geater’s Spirit of the Ring, Joely Barbour’s delightful Princess Jasmine, Gary Davis’ Emperor and Jamie Steen as the outrageous Widow Twankey, whose eye-catching, eye-blinking costumes became more colourfully over-the-top with each change.

Popular as usual was the stage visit of four children, here aged six to 12, who once again proved to be a mix of adorable shyness and spontaneity as Mark James carefully coaxed a few answers and a song from each.

So, although longer than expected it was still quite clear the audience lapped it up, including some risqué rudeness which thankfully sailed well over the heads of the very young. It could be the adults enjoyed this trip back to their childhood more, judging by the standing ovation.

If you want to enjoy a happy night out it is certainly worth a visit. But don’t leave it too long to book up.