First published in The Journal, Newcastle, December 2013

I DIDN’T see a panto until I was almost 40, and until I saw my first I had no idea what I was missing. So it’s always a pleasure to review the annual Darlington Civic Theatre show. This year’s is a proper treat:

Aladdin, Darlington Civic Theatre until January 12, 2014


Programme cover for Aladdin, starring the Chuckle Brothers, at Darlington Civic Theatre.

LEAVE your serious face behind you, get ready to shout “Hellooah” and revel in a full-on family treat because the Chuckle Brothers don’t stop until you’re wiping away tears of laughter.

Aladdin is a joy.  The “to me, to you” showbiz legends lead from the front but there are highlights throughout this show with a strong starring cast and talented support.

There are some clever sets, a great live band, pyrotechnics, an elephant (of which more later), a flying carpet, some twerking, and a striking giant puppet genie.

The Chuckle Brothers deliver a series of sketches which appear at times to leave even themselves helpless with laughter. The one where Barry attempts to audition for the X Factor while Paul designs a dress had me weeping.

And there can’t be many acts who would have reached back to the 1930s and shoehorned Wilson, Keppel and Betty’s Egyptian Sand-dancer routine into a story set in old Peking. Priceless.

Gary Amers makes Aladdin a proper North East mother’s boy, desperate to win the hand of Princess Jasmine. His performance is energetic and funny.

Darlington’s own Beth Stobbart, in her first professional  panto  after shining on this stage with Darlington OS, is delightful as Jasmine. It seems there’s nothing she can’t sing.

When the Chuckle Brothers aren’t on it’s Philip Meeks, fast becoming a Darlington favourite, who keeps the laughs coming as Widow Twankey. He gives us a warm and funny dame and gets through uncountable costume changes. There’s even a Darlington football-themed outfit including the Quakers bra: “Nee cups, and nee support”. Phil Corbitt as Abanazar supplies just the right amount of evil as the villain of the piece.

There are some stand-out musical numbers, with Jessie J’s Price Tag, which closes the first half, being my favourite. Stobbart and Amers give great vocal performances, the set is transformed into a sumptuous sea of red and gold, the dancers lend a Vegas glamour. It’s fabulous.

There’s also a fair bit of slapstick. And the elephant? Well, if you’re any further forward than row K, you might want to duck. Enjoy.

o This review appeared in The Journal, Newcastle, on December 14, 2013.

o Educational bit: If you’re not familiar with Wilson, Keppel and Betty have a look here, although it must have been Betty’s day off: