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On a cold, rainy January afternoon, the perfect antidote was to be found in Otterbourne Village Hall, where Otterbourne Theatre Company’s Aladdin, which runs over this and next weekend, is currently spreading plenty of laughter and cheer. From the moment we enter the auditorium, even the pre-show lighting reflects the setting of the show, which opened last night. Despite the odd mistimed cue, this is a production that’s hit its stride splendidly, offering terrific value for money. OTC Pantomimes have an excellent reputation, and it’s no surprise that the run is very well booked throughout.

Settings and costumes are spectacular, frequently beautiful, filled with rich colour throughout. Just as impressive is the technical aspect of the show, creating some wonderful effects I am deliberately not mentioning, because audiences deserve the delight of the surprises. For the same reason, I’m resisting the temptation to quote some of the lines, one in particular being my top favourite single line of all the seasonal shows I’ve attended in the past couple of months! This is not an entirely PC script, but it’s all in good, harmless fun, and this afternoon’s capacity audience evidently relished it.
The performances are certainly worth relishing. There are clearly many popular local favourites in the cast (deservedly so), another hallmark of a well-established local company, and this added to the happy, warm atmosphere pervading throughout the show. Holly Williams and Hannah Ashton make a thoroughly appealing Principal Boy and Girl, their excellent singing voices also blending to charming effect. Charm, indeed, is prevalent throughout the production. Phillip Tutt-Leonard’s Widow Twankey is a terrific comic presence, very funny, and occasionally grumpy when bemoaning the audience’s comparative response to Wishee Washee, played with aplomb by Louis Crosskey-Still, whose audience-friendly performance is remarkable for a young man of 14. As the Chinese Policemen, Jack Hobbs and Nicky Williams are, quite simply, hilarious.

As the villainous Abanazar, Richard Daniels scores some good laughs among the boos and hisses, and also reveals another unexpected talent (again, no spoilers!) towards the end of the show. Jess Hancock’s Spirit of the Ring has great charm and elegance, and Barbara Thomas is a hugely fun, commanding presence as the Genie. Supporting roles are extremely well played, with Daisy Lucas an appealing So-Shy, and Barbara Hancox an impressive, Katisha-like Empress. (Apropos Katisha, a musical quote from The Mikado made an effective moment! Most of the music in the show is pre-recorded, and the sound balance is exemplary throughout.)

Ensemble members are excellently drilled (the youngest members of the cast as impressive as their peers), and by the time we reach the happy finale, the joyful spirit of traditional pantomime has well and truly worked it’s magic. This was my first visit to an Otterbourne Pantomime… it won’t be my last!