Harpenden’s traditional show has all the trimmings for panto success

Harpenden panto Aladdin

Harpenden panto Aladdin - Credit: Archant

Harpenden’s annual Christmas panto is often unfairly judged as a poor relation of the big budget, star-studded production in neighbouring St Albans, when in many ways it is just as entertaining.

With more than a nod to a heritage of music hall theatre, with pre-planned gag sequences and set-pieces, it has to rely much more on the strength of the script and performances, and if the laughter from the crowds of schoolchildren watching this year’s show was any indication, it delivered in spades.

A traditional pantomime with pop star Michelle Heaton playing the lead male of Aladdin, it is really only the inclusion of hits like Ellie Goulding’s Love Me Like You Do and Michelle’s hit with former bandmates Liberty X, Just A Little, that gives it a contemporary grounding. But it’s that loving deference to the golden days of variety acts that gives Harpenden’s show its appeal, as spectators of all ages find themselves lost in the tricks and trappings of a proper pantomime.

Peter Dean, aka EastEnders’ long dead fruit and veg man Pete Beale, enters to the soap’s theme tune and announces cliffhangers to the famous “duff-duff” drum beat, but otherwise is firmly in character as the sneering wizard Abanazar, boos and hisses from the audience greeting his every appearance. Apparently he’s been doing panto for a quarter of a century, so he’s had the time and experience to get it down off pat.

In her first lead role, Michelle was a perfectly presented Aladdin, highlighting the power and range of her voice with some exceptional singing, and Widow Twankey was performed with camp gusto by Simon Nicholas.

But if there was one performer worthy of special praise then it was director Chris Law in the role of Wishy Washy, who not only delivered some of the best lines but also succeeded in distracting the younger members of the audience from an unfortunate mishap involving a magic box, which only further highlighted his professionalism and ability to think on his feet.

The script is peppered with local references, including a few Harpenden-centric digs at less salubrious Luton, which ensure the adults are kept suitably entertained, and the genie of the lamp is neatly realised using a holographic projection which loomed over the stage.

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If you’re looking for a traditional pantomime with all the trimmings this Christmas, then Aladdin certainly won’t rub you up the wrong way.