I'm a freelance writer living in Birmingham. I like Classic Rock, 70s pop music, football and interviewing celebrities. Follow me on Twitter: @andycoleman9
Annual pantomime extravaganza is a winter winner
Bigger, brighter, bolder, brasher - this year's Birmingham Hippodrome pantomime is a winner all the way.
A giant King Kong growling instructions to the villain Abanazar kicks things off, a taste of the spectacle to come.
I'm not going to spoil the surprises but be prepared for more enormous creatures, a fabulous flying carpet special effect, a Brummie genie and some superb 3D shocks that has the audience shrieking in terror.
Show stealers: Matt Slack as Wishee Washee and Andrew Ryan as Widow Twankey (pic: Keith Pattison)
There are also pyrotechnics and loud explosions but, for me, the show is stolen by good old fashioned comedy supplied by Matt Slack. He's not yet a household name but in Birmingham he's set to be a panto legend. This is his third Hippodrome production and - great news! - he's already signed up for next year's Dick Whittington show.
In Aladdin, Matt is Wishee Washee, Aladdin's brother. He has great rapport with the audience and the children chosen to join him on stage at the end. He also exhibits a wide range of comedic talents including impressions, slapstick (with acrobat team The Acromaniacs), double act (with excellent dame Andrew Ryan as Widow Twankey), use of props (hoverboard, saucepans) and making his co-stars 'corpse'. And all this while battling a bad throat which made him hoarse by the end.
Smutty: Julian Clary as Slave of the Ring (pic: Keith Pattison)
In the laughs department Julian Clary as The Slave of the Ring has difficulty matching Matt but tries hard with a seemingly endless string of smuty double entendres. Over the next few weeks many a parent is going to have trouble explaining some of his jokes to their kiddies.
There were a few witty asides - a cheeky reference to rival panto Cinderella at the Barclaycard Arena prompted a cheer - and his frequent changes of costume, becoming more colourful and outrageous as the show progressed, led him to announce, ''Another scene, another costume change.''
Not nice: Marti Pellow is evil Abanazar (pic: Keith Pattison)
I'd initially thought Marti Pellow would be a disappointing Abanazar - the lead singer of Wet Wet Wet is just too nice to be a villain - but within minutes he was met with a chorus of boos every time he appeared. Even at the curtain call cheers (for everyone else) turned to boos (for him). He grinned widely - job done, despite a dodgy accent that veered from American to English to Scottish!
Sweet: Lee Mead as Aladdin and Emily Shaw as Princess Jasmine
As for Aladdin (Lee Mead) and Princess Jasmine (Emily Shaw), how could they compete with their hilarious co-stars, the magnificent sets, vibrant dance routines and a script which for much of the time made them the butt of the jokes? They couldn't, so they sang sweetly and Lee took on the chin the quips about Any Dream Will Do and his role in Casualty. Most importantly, everyone looked like they were having a great time.
Problem is, Aladdin has raised the bar so high it's difficult to see how next year's Dick Whittington can top it. But signing Matt Slack to appear is a promising start.
Aladdin runs at Birmingham Hippodrome until Sunday January 31, 2016.
Spectacular: Aladdin at Birmingham Hipodrome (pic: Keith Pattison)