If your Christmas wish is festive fun for all the family, you don’t need to rub a magic lamp to make it come true.
Sunderland Empire has it in spades with its version of folk tale Aladdin.
The shimmering production is bringing a taste of the Orient to Sunderland for three weeks, led by This Morning’s Alison Hammond, Coronation Street’s Terence Maynard and Milkshake’s Derek Moran.
The latter will be well-known to little legs for his role on Channel 5’s early morning strand and his rapport with younger family members shines in this show.
He’s effervescent with energy as Wishee Washee, super silly sibling to Aladdin and hapless hand in the laundry to his washerwoman mum Widow Twankey.
His one liners “I had loads of yoghurts last night, I got Mullered” are oldies, but he delivers them with a fresh charm that will leave you giggling into your sweets.
Gloriously daft, he’s great at serving up those good old pantomime tropes: the shout outs, the slapstick and the audience soaking.
At the other end of the spectrum is Terence Maynard’s devilishly delightful delivery as Abanazar.
“I’m classically trained, don’t you know” he snarls at the crowd, and it shows. His commanding projection was as perfect as a Royal Shakespeare Company production, but he still managed to play the classic role with that panto baddie glint in his eye.
Alison Hammond was just as she seems in her interviews on This Morning: full of fun and friendliness and makes you feel like you’ve known her for years. (She’s like that to interview too)
The former Big Brother star may not seem an obvious choice for pantomime, but she was a natural as Slave of the Ring, the endearing wish-granter to our titular hero.
There is nothing like a dame - and Ian Good’s is buxom brilliance. He loves panto that much he’s directing this one, as well as going through the most costume changes as man-eater Widow Twankey.
The panto veteran was totally at ease with breaking the fourth wall to interact with the crowd, including one poor chap in the front row, Mark, who he took a particular shine to on opening night. I doubt Mark will be choosing to sit in a front row ever again.
But the award for best comic timing probably goes to Tom Whalley who was panto perfection as PC Pong. The physical comedy of the 12 Days of Christmas scene with him, Wishee and Widow Twankey is a highlight of the show as they work their way through an exhausting, rib-tickling twist on the original track, and had the audience cheering for an encore.
The other songs are less traditional chart-toppers, such as Carly Rae Jepsen’s I Really Like You, Uptown Funk and Ed Sheeran’s Thinking Out Loud, but they’re instantly recognisable toe-tappers that blend well with the piece.
Special mention must also go to the set, which is one of the best I’ve seen of the venue’s pantos in recent years. You can almost smell the incense as this most traditional of British art forms transports you to the other side of the globe in glorious, glittery technicolour.