It’s panto time and Nicola Harvey and her family enjoy all the fun with an annual trip to the Wyvern Theatre in Swindon. Photographer Anthony Hunt Photography

A visit to the pantomime is only a recent Christmas tradition for our family but one we are very much enjoying. So it was with great excitement that our family, with my goddaughter replacing dad Max for whom duty called at work (Oh yes it did! Boo! Hiss!), travelled to Swindon.

This year’s panto at the Wyvern Theatre is Aladdin and, like last year’s Peter Pan, stars Adam Woodyatt, of Eastenders fame, as Abanazer the villain. If there’s to be a big name in a pantomime, it’s critical to the show’s success that he or she clearly wants to be there, shows enjoyment of the role and as much commitment to slapstick humour as they might to high drama.

It’s no surprise that Adam has been invited back as he does all of that and more. He may hail from the East End, but seems just as pleased to be in Swindon as Albert Square. One big tick on the inevitable checklist for a successful panto…

Of course, a pantomime is far more than its big headline actor. Neil Bromley as Widow Twankey wore the increasingly ridiculous costumes beautifully and the bright red, shiny bell-shaped finale dress was everything you’d want in a dame’s costume. After a tip off from a friend whose partner used to design panto costumes, I was particularly looking out for a new costume for every entrance and certainly wasn’t disappointed.

The comic acting that went along with the costumes was really rather good too and the script had the required level of playful innuendo needed for parents to be checking their children’s faces for signs of reassuringly blissful ignorance.

Wishy Washy, played by Gary Jerry, was delightfully endearing and managed the brain-boggling tongue twister sequence with aplomb. It’s all too easy to miss the mark in the comic sidekick role and either under or overplay. Neither of these happened and I was almost (not quite!) sad when the essential competitive singalong (baby shark – what else could it have been!) came to an end.

Aladdin (Adam Bailey), Jasmine (Rosanna Harris) and the Genie (Richard J Hunt) all played their parts effectively, and I couldn’t fault the rest of the ensemble. I do love to see little dancers on stage, but although tonight’s local school children were older, they were still effective in the well choreographed dance numbers.

A special mention goes to whoever designed the scenery and backdrops, which were far superior to many I’ve seen, with a particularly beautiful colour palette, and wouldn’t have been out of place as illustrations in a pop up book in their own right.

Would I have liked a little more, messier and artfully timed, chaotic slapstick? Probably, but then it is my very favourite part of a pantomime and the laundry scene in Swindon still raised giggles.

I loved the rhyming sections of the script and the delight with which my children spotted various cast members popping up in different parts of the theatre. The Wyvern is a great venue for pantomime; it’s big enough for a properly loud audience response, but small enough that no one feels too far from the action.

And really, when it comes down to it, all I needed to know about the success of the show came by looking to my left and right and seeing four children, aged between seven and thirteen, totally engaged, involved and excited by a form of theatre that’s been around in one form or another since Roman times, but which still grips audiences today.

Aladdin in playing at the Wyvern Theatre Swindon until 6 January 2019. For more information and to book tickets, click here.