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Aladdin and the Twankeys, theatre review: 'An evening that barrels along at a prodigious pace'

Theatre Royal, York

Christmas is all about tradition – overcooked sprouts, drunken, warring families slugging it out over the turkey bones and struggling households tempted into debt by the months of glitzy television adverts in the relentless run up.

So it is welcome that some of our Yuletide routines are rather lovely.

Even if you are not a fan of blokes in dresses and pratfalling minor celebrities there is something special about the pantomime season. For a start it encourages young people into the theatre in their droves for what can sometimes – literally – be a once in a life time experience.

So it is only right and proper that that experience should be a positive one.

York is one of a handful of theatres where the traditional pantomime is taken seriously. Here you won’t find any stars from the world of the small screen. Instead the York panto has been dominated by the presence of one man for the past 35 years.

Berwick Kaler first turned up in York to play Sir Andrew Aguecheek in a production of Twelfth Night in 1977.

He was invited to stay on to play an ugly sister that Christmas and the rest is history. Now he is Britain’s longest serving pantomime dame and showing little sign of his enthusiasm for the role diminishing – despite suggestions that gender swap parts are on the decline.

In the early 90s Kayler appeared alongside Jimmy Nail in Spender but he remained a jobbing actor for whom the show in York remained the annual pinnacle of his stardom and who is a man clearly in his element lobbing Wagon Wheels into the audience or ad-libbing when things go wrong.

The dazzlingly colourful set, some nifty special effects and jokes that come thick and fast create an evening that barrels along at a prodigious pace. Many of the audience are here for their 20th or 30th outing and there are plenty of local and topical in-gags for them.

Kaler as Widow Twankey is admirably supported by Martin Barrass as Mankee Twankey whilst Al Braatz as Aladdin, Suzy Cooper as Princess Peke-a-Boo and Jonathan Race in the role of wicked Abanazar are also exemplars of the genre.

Playing until February, this is one of the longest pantomime runs in the country and considering its popularity it must provide a vital war chest for the rest of the year. Long may it continue.

York Theatre Royal until 1 February 2014