It’s not often you hear a good fart gag, but the Coliseum panto has two. The first is the punchline of a Covid-19 joke, part of a brief pandemic-themed rally by Richard J Fletcher as a lovably vulgar Widow Twankee. He seems coy about reminding us of the outside world, but getting a laugh out of lockdown is no small feat.
After that nod to topicality, the show changes tack for an evening of high-energy silliness, although there is a timely whiff of sleaze about Shaun Hennessy’s Emperor pocketing £4.5m profits from his Imperial Washing Corporation. He shares only loose change to show his gratitude before handing out an eviction order to Twankee, proprietor of the last independent laundry in Oldham.
Fart gag number two lands with the splendid arrival of Marc Zayat as the Jinn of the Lamp. If you can imagine a camp hippy with a gift for rapping, you’re halfway there. Zayat doubles as one of the comic policemen, entertainingly paired with Alex Phelps, in a show, written by Fine Time Fontayne and director Chris Lawson, that is stripped of racial stereotypes.
It observes panto traditions including incompetent cops and clothes-washing routines and has a principal boy, Shorelle Hepkin, who is a triple-threat Aladdin, singing, dancing and charming her way through a show whose energy is matched by its good cheer. She is equalled in gutsiness by Dora Rubinstein’s Princess Jasmine, their romance somehow convincing despite its breakneck speed. It is not a panto to dwell on the big emotions, preferring always to underplay love, poverty and fear if it means skating ahead to the next scene.
With Liz Carney arriving from Rochdale (“the land that time forgot”) to wreak her evil magic as Aunty Banazar, there is a forceful female energy, not least because of the tireless work by the quartet of dancers. If Carney weren’t such a good singer, we’d boo her even more.
Roused by Dave Bintley’s musical direction and cheered by Celia Perkins’s colourful designs (she uses all the colours), it is a happy, breathless show by a tightly drilled ensemble.
Aladdin is at Coliseum, Oldham, until 8 January.