FROM the minute ex-Coronation Street and Emmerdale actor Bill Ward stepped on stage declaring ‘I am Abanazar’, in this this year’s all-singing, all-dancing panto offering, it was clear that he had put his own stamp on the role.

Not a fearsome, quaking-in-your-boots kind of baddie, more quietly sarcastic with a nonchalant air.

He brushed aside the boos and hisses and completely won the audience over.

Mark Rhodes was an assured Aladdin, belting out Justin Timberlake’s feel-good ‘Can’t Stop the Feeling’ with ease and an easy smile, leaving us in no doubt as to why he secured that Pop Idol runner-up spot a few years ago.

Nick Wilton is resplendent as Widow Twankey, with bubble hair which later became a washing line. The dame’s costumes were inspired; the furry, animal-print coat was particularly fetching. Expect plenty of one-liners and a ‘Christmas rapping’ special, Twankey T-style.

Gemma Naylor was a convincing Princess Jasmine, feisty and independent, suitably outspoken against her father, the Emperor (Glyn Dilley).

Theatre Royal regular Jon Monie as Wishee Washee brought the show together, evidently at home. The jokes just kept coming and the interlude with local children on stage was simply hilarious.

A standout star-in-the-making was Tom Whalley as PC Pong, whose high-pitched, manic antics were a joy.

Loula Geater as the Slave of the Ring reminded me slightly of Catherine Tate and her superb voice lifted the musical numbers into the stratosphere, particularly in the flying carpet scene, which was greeted with riotous applause.

The girls from the Dorothy Coleborn School of Dance were faultless, complementing the main characters well.

There is no let-up in the pace, which gallops along until the final wedding scene.

Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without panto and this year’s Aladdin does not disappoint.

The show runs until January 8.