Stuart Forster reviews the pantomime Aladdin at Newcastle’s Tyne Theatre and Opera House.
Newcastle’s Tyne Theatre and Opera House’s 2019-20 Christmas pantomime is Aladdin. Local actor Charlie Richmond stars as Wishee Washee alongside Aladdin, played by Nic Westaway, singer Marcus Collins and soap star David Easter.
Disclosure: Stuart Forster, the author of this post, was invited to attend the press night show of Aladdin. The Tyne Theatre and Opera House has not reviewed or approved this article.
It’s a fun, entertaining show with multigenerational appeal in the form of jokes, singing and dancing, including impressively choreographed aerial silk acrobatics. I spotted kids gaping open-mouthed in awe during the magic carpet flight.
What to expect from Aladdin
The story is set in Old Peking where the pantomime dame Widow Twankey (played by Chris Casserly) runs a laundry with her sons Aladdin (Nic Westaway) and Wishee Washee (Charlie Richmond). PC Pong (Lewis Denny) attempts to enforce law and order.
Dastardly Abanazar (David Easter) is roundly booed for his plotting and villainous acts, including attempts to get Aladdin to release the Genie (Marcus Collins) from the magic lamp.
As you’d expect from a panto, there’s also a romance. Princess Jasmine (Hannah Wales) and Aladdin fall for each other
This is Richmond’s eleventh year playing roles in pantomimes at the Tyne Theatre and Opera House, including the 2018-18 panto, Cinderella. Yet again, he’s the star of the show. He ably performs slapstick routines, a comic balloon dance with Chris Casserly and involves the audience. He shows his ability to ad lib and crack jokes when children from the audience are invited onto the stage.
Meeting the Aladdin cast
“It’s a spectacle. Every year it gets better and better. This year the cast are great. I’m absolutely loving it,” commented Lewis Denny after the show. He has appeared in pantomimes at the Tyne Theatre and Opera House since 2015 and is returning to the PC Pong role that he played during his first panto.
“It’s five years, this year. It’s great fun. I spend a lot of the year moving around the country and cruising, so to be home for six or seven weeks’ work is fab. I don’t have to get in my car and travel. I’m loving it,” he explained.
“It’s absolutely gorgeous. It’s one of the UK’s oldest working Victorian theatres. The team have really gone to town getting the traps redone and having them working,” said Denny of the Tyne Theatre and Opera House, a Grade I listed building that opened in 1867.
“Now that tonight’s out of the way it’s quite a relaxing feeling. Tonight’s the first night we’ve done it with the audience. You get a buzz because people start laughing at the script. We’ve been doing it for the last 10 days but it’s just the producers; nobody’s there. To get an audience — you take your bow and get a clap at the end — it’s such a great experience; you get appreciated for your work,” added the actor.
Marcus Collins as the Genie
“It went so well. The cast, their energy was electric and I was so excited just to be a part of it. I love doing panto because it’s so exciting for the children. It’s the first time that a lot of people get to come into the theatre. I remember my first time coming to see panto and it was so exciting,” enthused Marcus Collins, a Liverpudlian who was a runner-up on The X Factor in 2011.
“Playing in front of the Geordie audience is insane. It reminds me of being back in Liverpool, the level of support. Just how generous and kind people are. This is like my second home; I love it here,” added Collins.
Nic Westaway as Aladdin
“I thought it was a brilliant show tonight. We’ve done all the tech and dress in the lead up to it and I’m so proud of everyone involved,” said Nic Westaway after playing the panto’s title role.
Nic hails from Margaret River in Western Australia and from 2012 to 2016 played Kyle Braxton in Home and Away.
“I’ve been living in London since April. This opportunity came up and I’ve always been fascinated by pantomime. It’s a culture that exists in the UK so I said yes. I’ve moved up to Newcastle for six weeks. We’ve got a 53-show run, so it’s going to be great,” added Westaway.
He explained that he auditioned for a role in one of Enchanted Entertainment’s pantomimes. “They liked that I could sing and dance, and my acting. They said they thought I’d suit Aladdin and workshopped me in a few scenes then got me in the costume. They cast a Jasmine around me and we got the beautiful Hannah Wales, who is a local, and we went for it,” said the Australian.
“It’s nerve-wracking but the audiences in panto are always very supportive. Always cheering, getting involved and clapping. We get nervous because we care and really want to give you a good show. We get out there, fall into the rhythm and give you a brilliant show. I love it, I really do,” he added.
Meeting the pantomime’s villain
David Easter, who played bad guy Abanazar, was shortlisted for the Villain of the Year award at the 2018 British Soap Awards for his role as Mac Nightingale in Hollyoaks.
“I just had to concentrate, try and make it funny, do different voices and let the audience enjoy being there; not taking over, reacting to them. It was great. I loved it,” said Easter.
“I’m mostly a TV actor. It’s a lot of hard work because it’s action orientated and very physical. I’m used to standing in front of a camera. I don’t need much rehearsal for that. It’s totally different but I loved it,” commented the actor.
A word with the dame
Chris Casserly plays Widow Twankey, the pantomime’s dame, in this year’s production of Aladdin at the Tyne Theatre and Opera House.
“It’s a relief, more than anything, to know that we’ve got a show and gone from the beginning to the end. We’ve gone through it twice today and got another 52 to go. The first few shows, you really have to think everything through. But in a couple of days it’ll be like autopilot; it just sinks in and you don’t have to think too much,” said Casserly, who has played dames in 20 of his 23 pantomime seasons.
“I went to drama school thinking I was going to be Hamlet. You play with the cards you are dealt. One of my first jobs was as an Ugly Sister in Cinderella. I did that for a couple of years. I realised it was a way to get a good role without being a face from the TV. Generally, they don’t want to put a face from TV behind a load of makeup. Once you’ve done it once or twice people trust you to do it again. It’s been a good friend to me, the dame,” commented Casserly, who wears an array of outlandish costumes during the performance.
“It’s great,” he said of returning to perform at the Tyne Theatre and Opera House. “I’ve been up here before, on tour with The Wizard of Oz a couple of times. I played the wizard. I knew that the theatre was lovely. Last year I was in Ipswich and this year I requested to come back to Newcastle. It’s a beautiful theatre.”
Aladdin continues until Sunday 5 January 2020. Tickets are available via the Tyne Theatre and Opera House website, priced from £10. Family tickets cost from £63.
Bobby Davro and Charlie Richmond will be performing in The Wizard of Oz, the Tyne Theatre and Opera House’s Easter Panto, on 11 and 12 April 2020. The 2020-21 Christmas panto will be Sleeping Beauty.
See the NewcastleGateshead website for ideas about other things to see and do while on Tyneside.
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