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Aladdin returns to the Old Vic after more than a century



Preview by Lizzie Guilfoyle

VETERAN actor, Sir Ian McKellen, is about to fulfil a long-held ambition, by stepping into the shoes of pantomime dame, Widow Twankey, when London's Old Vic theatre stages a new version of Aladdin this coming Christmas season, from December 17 to January 22, 2005.

Sir Ian last appeared at the Old Vic in the 1965 production of Much Ado About Nothing and his return is welcomed by new artistic director, Kevin Spacey.

"Ian is one of the great actors of all time," he commented. "We wanted to persuade him to return to a theatre he last played in nearly 40 years ago.

"He was ready for a fresh challenge and decided he'd like to do a pantomime, and one which is part of the Old Vic tradition - the theatre staged Aladdin back in 1843."

So, what is the appeal of pantomime?

McKellen himself explains: "Pantomime has everything theatrical - song, dance, verse, slapstick, soliloquy, audience participation, spectacle, cross-dressing and a strong plot, strong on morality and romance. What more could you want for a family outing?"

Joining McKellen, as Abbanazar, will be double Olivier Award-winner, Roger Allam, who is currently starring in Democracy at the Wyndham's Theatre, in the West End.

Allam has appeared on stage many times but it was for his performance in Summerfolk and Privates on Parade that he won the awards.

Maureen Lipman, who earlier this year, played a pseudo-Oriental landlady in Thoroughly Modern Millie, will appear as Dim Sum. Her other West End stage credits include, Peggy For You and Oklahoma!

Also in the cast, are Sam Kelly (the Emperor of China), currently at the National Theatre in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum; Ramon Tikaram (Jinn of the Lamp) from Bombay Dreams and TV's This Life and Cat Simmons (the Princess), of We Happy Few and Simply Heavenly.

Hanky and Panky will be played by Owen Sharpe (Oliver Twist, She Stoops to Conquer) and Joanna Page (The Mysteries, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie), respectively.

And taking on the title role of Aladdin, will be Joe McFadden whose stage credits include Rent and A Life in the Theatre. He has also appeared in TV's Crow Road.

Aladdin is, of course, one of the most famous tales from the Thousand and One Nights collection of stories. It was first staged at Convent Garden as long ago as 1788, although Widow Twankey didn't appear, as a character, until 1861.

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