Aladdin is pure family fun

The cast of Aladdin at The Zion Baptist Church in Burnley.
The cast of Aladdin at The Zion Baptist Church in Burnley.

BURNLEY were playing down the road at Turf Moor but it was panto that kicked off at Sion Baptist Church Hall on Tuesday night.

And the almost full opening night house were treated to what we have come to expect from Sion Panto Society – good clean family fun as traditional as a panto can be. Even the Rev. Andy Williams, acting as MC, was straight into panto mode as he introduced the evening. Oh yes he was!

“Aladdin” was the offering this year and what is unique about Sion is that everyone involved – from principal characters to the backroom boys and refreshment sellers – are all members of the church. And this makes for camaraderie on stage. You really feel you are watching a family entertaining you. In church circles they have even become known as “the church that does panto”.

And they do it really well because entertainment is what it is all about at Sion, under the excellent direction of Jo Williams. They stick to the rules of true panto and try to engage the audience as much as possible, although Tuesday night’s audience took some coaxing.

The stars of this show for me were Alys Williams in the lead role of Aladdin and the gormless police constables PCs Ping and Pong played by Amy Tattersall and Marcia Turner. This was Alys’s 13th pantomime, third as principal boy, and it shows. Her confidence shone through as she strutted about the stage and turned Aladdin into a cocky young upstart set to make his fortune and win the girl of his dreams. She was word perfect and took on the role with aplomb. Well done Alys.

But it was Ping and Pong who played it for laughs and enchanted the audience. They were funny from the minute they tumbled on stage as the bumbling police constables with their trademark catchphrase “Evenin’ all”.

Sion’s very own Dick Emery, Gordon Tattersall, plays Aladdin’s mother the dame Widow Twankey, a role he has taken to his heart, and his sidekick Mark Lawless as his other son Wishee Washee was, as usual, just daft.

Aimee Duckworth plays a delightful role as Princess So-Shi. She is confident and assured in the role and Geoff Pickles returns after a two-year break to play Abanazar – maybe a little too gently – more “evilness” needed please.

Rob Bennett makes a comeback on stage after working behind the scenes in recent years and was well cast as So-Shi’s father and young Annabel Clegg, the youngest principal at just 11, was confident and assured as she played the Slave of the Ring expertly.

Angela Duckworth entered into the spirit as the Genie of the Lamp, but I would have liked to have seen this character having much more prominence. In this version of “Aladdin” it is, sadly, a relatively small part.

Sion Panto Society have a large chorus from tiny tots up and they really make this show a feast of song and dance. From the opening number through to the wonderful finale song they excel. Well done also to the youngsters from Burnley Dance Centre who do a cameo slot as the Shanghai City Ballet.

Amy Tatersall had to step in as musical director when Alex Markham has to step down and the choice of numbers, not traditional panto songs, worked really well with Marcia Turner’s superb choreography, some of the best I have seen in local panto.

This is a great show and director Jo Williams and producer Craig Needham make it fun and entertaining, but I would like to see something a little different now from this talented society.

“Aladdin” continues tonight and tomorrow in Sion Baptist Hall in Burnley town centre.