FOUR STARS

The Newbury Corn Exchange’s eleventh home-grown pantomime – and its first as sole producer – is not the most lavish Aladdin you will have seen, nor certainly the most star-studded. It is, however, a colourful, good-natured production, with its heart always in the right place, that will instil the true spirit of Christmas in all who see it.

This included an audience composed almost entirely of littlies on the afternoon I watched, with large parties from a number of local primary schools, and I think a nursery too, ranged along the seats in front of me, from which they were ready to leap when occasion demanded (as in the closing competitive sing-song).

Their evident fascination with all the activities on stage was testament to the success of seasoned pantomime practitioner Phil Willmott in the writing and direction he is once again supplying at this venue (itself, incidentally, a festive spirit-lifter with all the vivid artwork about the place).

Newcomer Christian James makes his professional debut in the title role, having just qualified at the Central School of Speech and Drama. His is a confident, charismatic performance, showing a special strength where singing is concerned. A highlight here is duet with his love-interest Princes Jasmine (Caoimhe Garvey) on what I judge to be (after a spot of internet research) John Legend’s All of Me.

While a focus of attention during much of the action, Christian’s Aladdin can hardly fail to be upstaged by the character’s outrageous mother, the dame of the piece Widow Twankey.

The Oxford Times:

Matthew Grace as Billy the Genie of the Ring Picture: FarrowsCreative

Though you would hardly guess it, this role, too, represents a debut for the actor playing it. The widely experienced Phil Sealey has never acted in pantomime before, and even submitted to the loss of his beard in order to do so.

There is much laughter supplied not only by him but by Matthew Grace as the Genie of the Ring, Dominic Griffin as Wishee Washee, and Amy Christina Murray and Joshua Coley as policemen Ping and Pong. Anne Odeke delivers belting vocals as the Genie of the Lamp, who remains only sporadically obedient to its temporary owner, the hissably wicked Abanazar (Christopher Hines).

Corn Exhange, Newbury

Until January 4,

Box office: 0845 5218 218, www.cornexchangenew.com

The Oxford Times:

Anne Odeke as Gloria the Genie of the Lamp and Phil Sealey as Widow Twankey Picture: FarrowsCreative