I LOVE a good pantomime, particularly a traditional one.

All too often these days, panto is done with a cast of stars from soap operas and reality TV. But my heart is with the traditional panto – an unknown cast bringing the panto tradition to life in a light hearted and fun way.

Pantomime is an age-old tradition going back thousands of years, but developing in England during the middle ages. Panto today is nearly always based on a fairy tale, with a standard pattern of topical humour, rubbish jokes, audience participation, a chorus who sing and dance their way through the scenes, and a man in drag more formally known as the dame.

This panto was no exception – based on the tale of Aladdin, with a few nods to other fairy tales thrown in.

This was a huge undertaking to put on.

A cast of over 40, all with various costumes, special effects, music and the set. It must have been a labour of love for Director/Producer Katharine Mathison, and Producer Keith Brunton.

To quote one of the mums that I got chatting to during the interval, ‘Katharine is amazing!’

She told me that her daughter had never done anything like that before and didn’t really dance, but had grown in confidence, refused to miss rehearsals, and spent hours practicing her dance routines at home.

Her daughter had clearly loved every minute, judging by the way she beamed throughout the show!

And the audience loved it too.

When Abanazar, the villain, came on stage at the beginning of the show, he was greeted with booing, that continued every time he appeared – even when by the end of the show he had shunned his evil ways to become a nice person. Played by David McGrath, he became the butt of many a topical joke that had the audience in fits of laughter. And David played the perfect villain, interacting with the audience and ad-libbing when necessary. Yes, there were a couple of forgotten lines by cast members during the show but that’s typical of panto and adds to the fun of it.

One scene that is always part of a traditional panto is the ‘ghost scene’, this time done instead as a gorilla scene. It goes like this… The cast sit on chairs chatting, whilst the gorilla hovers menacingly in the background. One by one, the gorilla scared the cast members until only the dame is left on stage. The gorilla then sees the dame and on looking at her, is so scared that it runs away. No matter how often you see these scenes, they still make you laugh and this was no exception. The reaction of the gorilla seeing the dame and running in horror through the audience to escape was hilarious.

With such a huge cast, who all did a superb job and provided great performances all round, it’s difficult to single out special performances. So good was this panto that I could mention everyone by name and give them a positive review, but unfortunately, space constraints won’t allow this. I have therefore picked out a few below for a special mention, but that doesn’t mean that other performers didn’t also deserve my praise.

Aladdin was played by Arran Houston who gave a convincing and funny performance as the hero of the play, making the role his own in an engaging and original way. David Rees who played Wishee Washee was cast perfectly in a panto role. He built an excellent rapport with the audience, and was able to ad-lib at will with whatever the audience threw at him, and with whatever happened on stage. When Aladdin’s hat fell off (I like to think accidentally rather than intentionally) he made a big show of picking it up and putting it back on Aladdin’s head, much to the delight of everyone in the audience, the two of them making the perfect comedy duo.

Olivia Napier as Jasmine really came into her own in the second act. I must admit that I haven’t seen the Disney version of Aladdin, but I imagine she would make a great Disney Princess.

The Dame is always the main character in panto and this one was no different. Widow Twanky was played by Matt Davies and he was so perfect for the role, I suspect he may have done it before. The traditional panto lines were delivered so well that it was as if they had been written just for him.

Panto is a show for all the family and a good innuendo always make me chuckle. The innuendo from Widow Twanky had me in fits of laughter – so subtle that the kids wouldn’t pick up on it but perfect for the adults in the audience. For example, when Aladdin said that someone had been playing with his ring, Widow Twanky cut in quickly with ‘I’ll talk to you about that later”. Pure filth, but exactly what you’d expect from a good panto (maybe not something to be explaining to the kids that are reading this!).

Every time I see a Tweed Theatre show, I comment on its professionalism and this was no exception. From the excellent costumes, to the special effects (indoor fireworks and a flying magic carpet included), it really was an exceptional pantomime! The dance routines were well choreographed and delivered to perfection by the team of dancers and the whole ensemble. And a quick shout out to the Slave of the Ring, the Genie of the Lamp, and the three Policemen! And of course, to everyone else that was involved in putting on a fun festive treat that didn’t disappoint.

Finally panto wouldn’t be panto without the rubbish jokes. I think my favourite of the night had to be ‘What’s worse than a cub scout in your pocket?’… A brownie in your pants!

So did I enjoy it? Oh yes I did!

Jenifer Thomas