Our three wishes for Esher Theatre’s upcoming production of Aladdin have been granted: local legends, magical music, and family fun!
Words | Caitlin Charles
Esher Theatre is hosting its very first pantomime from the 9th to 23rd of December, and we couldn’t be more excited! Featuring a fantastic cast with links to the local community, a live five-piece band, and a whole lot of magic, Aladdin is a must-see this Christmas.
The production stars Crackerjack and The Good Old Days icon Jan Hunt as the Empress, TV star Richard Brimblecombe as Abanazar, pantomime royalty Bobby Crush as Widow Twankey, West End legend Peter Straker as the Genie, and Nova Jones’s Luke Coughlan as Aladdin. The Court Circular were lucky enough to catch-up with the cast before they embarked on their magical ride…
Jan is a certified legend of the local area, having lived here for much of her life. “I was originally from Cranford, but I moved to Kingston Hill because I wanted to be near water. Looking at water calms me. Now I’ve lived in West Molesey for the past 20 years,” she explains.
Her connections to the community mean that she has been a long-supporter of Charlie Swift, Esher Theatre’s artistic director and Aladdin’s executive producer. “I was very thrilled to hear that Charlie was opening a new venue. His enthusiasm needs to be admired!”
Having performed in 40 pantomimes over the years, Jan knows exactly what makes a good pantomime. “Its a children’s storybook that opens up and comes alive on the stage,” she declares. “There are certain rules, such as that the baddie and the fairy should never touch.”
Despite her love of traditional fairytale magic, Jan will be taking on the role of Empress for the very first time. In this version of Aladdin written by Eric Potts, who has countless pantomime scripts to his name, the Emperor will be replaced by an Empress in order to refresh the previously male-dominated cast.
Richard Brimblecombe, who will play Abananzer, is another local talent. “I went to Esher college, and I live in Esher,” he reveals. “Actually, I’m within walking distance of the theatre, which is fantastic.”
Alongside playing cricket for Esher, Richard has acted in a broad array of both stage and screen productions, from the National Theatre to Netflix. When asked to be part of the Aladdin cast at Esher Theatre, his response was hilariously wicked: “Only if I can be a baddie.”
Bobby Crush, whose career in the entertainment industry has spanned from Opportunity Knocks to the Panto Archive Hall of Fame, will bring years of experience to the role of Widow Twankey. With 37 pantomimes under his belt, Bobby is rather familiar with being the pantomime dame after starting out as the principal boy.
“Its a children’s storybook that opens up and comes alive on the stage.”
He believes that a great actor must constantly adapt to the changing demands of the audience. “The key to a long career in this industry is to keep learning new skills” Bobby notes. “Its about getting experience, doing anything and everything.” Becoming a dame is certainly a difficult skill, with each of Bobby’s performances in Aladdin featuring a whopping ten costume changes, five in each act.
As well as a wardrobe of magnificent costumes, Aladdin promises audience participation for the whole family, which Bobby believes is what makes an excellent stage performance. “The performer has got to feel at one with the audience. It’s about confidence, letting the audience know that they’re in safe hands,” he claims.
Luckily, Esher Theatre is a venue which perfectly captures the connection between performer and audience, having 200 seats compared to the thousands of larger theatres. Bobby says that he “loves the intimacy of it.”
Like Bobby, Peter Straker is no stranger to the stage. Having performed in West End shows such as Tommy, Phantom of the Opera, and Hair alongside his career as a musician, Peter is excited to return to live theatre after a 3-year hiatus. “It will be fun,” he says.
Peter is familiar with the role of the Genie, having performed in seven pantomimes so far. “I’ve done two Aladdins before, and I played the genie in both,” he recounts. “In Canterbury, I was flown in and dropped on stage!” Unphased by the extremities of his previous performance, Peter is ready to bring the magic of the lamp to Esher Theatre alongside the rest of the fabulous cast. And we are very much looking forward to it too!
We granted the cast one wish each…
Jan Hunt as The Empress: ‘To be able to keep doing what I love, to keep entertaining people, to keep working.’
Richard Brimblecombe as Abanazer: ‘To play competitive sport forever, free of injury.’
Bobby Crush as Widow Twankey: ‘To continue in the business for another 50 years.’
Peter Straker as The Genie: ‘Transportation… beam me up genie!’
This production of Aladdin is supported by Killick & Co., which has been part of the Esher community for almost 30 years.
Killik & Co.’s Aladdin will run from the 9th to 23rd of December at Esher Theatre.
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