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Review of Aladdin at the Alban Arena, St Albans

After a sell-out season last year, the Alban Arena returns to its crowd-pleasing Evolution panto formula for a pacey version of Aladdin. The main difference this year is that directing credits fall to St Albans' favourite son – Bob Golding (PC Pongo), who's rapidly becoming a stalwart of the local panto scene.

Just like the annual Christmas box of Quality Street from your Nan, all your favourite flavours are there; the pop references (Gangnam Style, Price Tag by Jessie J, 500 miles by The Proclaimers); the layer of adult humour that leaves the kids baffled; the nod to irony - “That's not your mum, it's a fat bloke in a dress”.

The dynamic duo of Bob Golding and Phil Gallagher (Aladdin) make a welcome return to the Alban Arena stage and provide the main comic thrust of the show. Their infectious energy, enthusiasm and humour all ensure that the audience is quickly recruited into Aladdin's 'gang' and carried through the production, which has plenty of laugh-out-loud moments along with the predictably cheesy gags.

Shaun Williamson attacks the role of the baddie, Abanazar with gusto, making fun of his TV alter-ego 'Barry' and bemoaning his classical acting career. The audience are treated to not one, but two genies – spirited performances by both Kelly Chinery and Nathaniel Morrison. We also see the welcome return of Jemma Carlisle who plays Princess Jasmine. Jemma is obviously a very talented performer with a great singing voice, so it's a shame that she isn't more utilised in the show but such are the limitations of the panto genre.

This year's highlights were the dynamic and raucous performances from all involved. The audience couldn't have failed to notice how much the cast seemed to be enjoying themselves. The costumes were also much improved from last year's and I lost count of the number of costume changes Sam Rabone's fabulous scene-stealing Widow Twankey had to contend with (including one that apparently caused him to miss his cue, adding to the comic effect).

Golding's direction is fast-moving and he packs the show with gags, slapstick, singing and dancing. So much so the audience don't get a chance to stop and think too hard about the plot, which is fairly thin. There's a topical nod to the Age of Austerity when Princess Jasmine sings Jessie J's Price Tag. Her Aladdin doesn't need to be rich to make her happy. (He gets rich anyway – but back in more prosperous times we wouldn't have fretted about it so much).

Our two young reviewers aged six and seven gave it a big thumbs up. When asked what they enjoyed they both replied, 'All of it!' which, after all, is the best recommendation a family panto can have.

Aladdin is at the Alban Arena until 6 January 2013. Buy Tickets.

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