40 years of spectacular pantos in Stevenage, and Aladdin is a table topper

Stars outside the venue include Paul Laidlaw, Shaun Williamson

Stars outside the venue include Paul Laidlaw, Shaun Williamson - Credit: Archant

So what do the years 1979, 1986, 1993, 1999, 2004, 2009 and 2014 have in common? You can have three guesses, but three wishes have been reserved for someone else...

The someone else is Aladdin, of course, and the familiar tale of one young man and his genie has provided the story for the annual panto spectacular at Stevenage’s Gordon Craig Theatre in each of those years.

The 2014 show, which was launched at the theatre on Friday, lifts Aladdin up into joint top place in the annals of the Gordon Craig, which this year is celebrating the panto season’s 40th anniversary at the venue.

Sharing top spot is Cinderella, which was performed last year for the seventh time, while down in the relegation zone are the likes of Sinbad The Sailor, seen once in 1981 but never since, and 2011’s Beauty And The Beast.

But that’s enough history, boys and girls – what about this year’s show?

The big name signing for Stevenage’s Premier League panto team is Shaun Williamson, the former EastEnders favourite who showed his comic range playing a fictionalised version of himself in the hit Ricky Gervais TV series Extras.

Shaun joined cast members – and a camel – in town for the official launch of the show, which will have its opening night on Friday, November 28, and run for two months of familiar family fun.

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Playing the evil Abanazaar, Shaun is already looking forward to opening night. He said: “I can’t wait to get started – when I play the baddie, I always think the more boos the better.

“I’ve heard all about the famous dame here at Stevenage and I can’t wait to work with him.”

The dame in question, of course, is the redoubtable Paul Laidlaw, the lynchpin of the GCT panto since 1986 – coincidentally beginning his long association in Aladdin.

He made his entrance onto the stage in full Widow Twankey costume and preceded by that camel. He said: “Of course I had to arrive in style for the anniversary, and the camel just seemed perfect.”

The show has been written by Chris Jordan, who also directs. He promised: “This year’s show will hold many surprises, and the genie will be one to watch. We will be showing the audience things they’ve never seen before, and will never see again.”

Also hard at work for opening night are the versatile Aidan O’Neill as Wishee Washee and Junix Inocian as the emperor, with ‘principal boy’ Hannah Malekzad – who also played the role in Redditch last year and has spent much of 2014 on tour in Monty Python musical Spamalot – as Aladdin.

If you want to make sure of your tickets, visit www.gordon-craig.co.uk or call the box office on 01438 363200.

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