Theatre Royal Stratford East, London E15
Opened 13 December, 2001

**** Clever contemporary take on the traditional panto story

The former home of Joan Littlewood's company reopens with the kind of panto it does best, one which speaks directly to its local audience.

Previous Stratford East pantos I've seen have been rumbustious affairs, with grown-ups getting into the thick of things just as much as children. This year isn't quite as raucous, but still combines big fun with an undertow of thoughtfulness. Its characters are recognisable as real east London people, even though the action takes place in old Peking.

Kat B is a sharp, hip-hopping black Aladdin, a no-good boy who seizes the opportunity to make something of himself when wicked Abenazar dupes him into helping obtain the magic lamp. As his mother Sung Din, Michael Bertenshaw doesn't get into traditional panto-dame glad rags until the second half, but is a wonderfully earthy matriarch. Brian Protheroe, a fine character actor, relishes his chance to be villainous as Abenazar, and also contributes an excellent score for author David Cregan's lyrics. Darlene Johnson steals her scenes as the Genie of the Ring, a down-at-heel sort of sprite who acknowledges that basic conjuring is about her limit in the sorcery department, and Sarah Rajeswaran's Crown Princess just wants to cut through all the antiquated stuffiness at court. A straight-talking delight of a Christmas show.

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Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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