Arabian Nights

Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham

takes the story of Scheherazade, inventor of the cliff- hanger, and stirs in a variety of adventures, genies, hidden treasure and frustrated love in the style of the tales she told. The result is a story as gripping as anything recounted during those 1,001 nights. It may not feature the hissing, cross-dressing and TV "celebs" offered by pantomime, but it still manages to provide a very nasty baddy, a rattling good yarn, and a sizeable dose of enjoyable comedy and music, all combined in a contemporary musical. More importantly, it keeps kids riveted, proving that they can sit still and enjoy themselves without having to shout "Oh, no you won't" every five minutes.

The star is undoubtedly Ross MacKenzie, who gives a performance saturated with all the high camp of a transatlantic pantomime dame as Gromar, the genie racing to regain his powers and defeat the evil Schahzabac. He is aided in his quest by Emma Jay Thomas's Scheherazade, an excellent and endearing portrayal of a character who is sweet, tough, witty - and naive (anyone who has ever visited a souk knows that an offer to "show you the way" can lead only to a mugging or a carpet shop).

All this takes place amid the phantasmagoric designs of Marty Flood, who conjures a rich kaleidoscope of brilliance to thrill the eye. Special effects are simple but effective, and, with the exception of a highly confusing opening, Richard Taylor's script is straightforward enough for younger audience members to follow, while not so simplistic as to bore the adults. The cast contains some fine singers - particularly Joshua Bancel - who firmly underpin the feeling that this is more than just another pantomime. With its contemporary musical style, fairy-tale backdrop and drawing of parallels between life and stories (turn the page, start anew), the show sometimes feels rather like an Eastern version of Sondheim's Into the Woods - albeit with less of a dark edge.

As a composer, Taylor has a good grasp of modern idiom, and produces some strong and catchy numbers, ranging from the Sondheimian "Scheherazade's Panic" and "Farizad's Despair" to the cheery Bart-esque Cockney of "Wise Up, Dress Down". He still needs to search harder for his own voice, though: the soundalike effect means that the tune I came out humming was not his, but "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend".

If you've got children, is an excellent opportunity to introduce them to the joys of a good musical and get them hooked on the habit early - otherwise, they might just grow up to be Lloyd-Webber fans.

Twice daily to 10 Jan. Booking: 01242 572573