CHRISTMAS just wouldn’t be Christmas in Bradford without the annual familiar cry of “Hiya kids!” as Billy Pearce makes his entrance onto the Alhambra stage.

And as Bradford’s favourite funnyman landed in Old Peking this week - for his 20th Alhambra pantomime, Aladdin - he showed why he’s still at the top of his game.

From the moment he hit the stage, Billy had his devoted audience in the palm of his hand. With boundless energy, flawless comic timing and his trademark cheeky charm, he sailed through the show, stealing every scene.

“I’m Wishee Washee...this year,” he declared, with a knowing wink.

This is a spectacular, slick production, with jaw-dropping special effects from visual maestros The Twins FX - not least a thrilling journey through Aladdin’s cave, a delightful Yorkshire Genie and an incredible flying carpet which left us grown-ups as spellbound as the youngsters - but at its heart is the warmth and tradition of panto. Billy’s comic routines, including a hilarious pop medley mime, an impressive tongue-twister and an eye-wateringly saucy saucepan number, left the audience in stitches. In the right hands, there’s nothing quite like a bit of panto slapstick for laughs, and Billy is a master of physical comedy.

There was lovely banter with the audience too, and Billy had fun with a camera pointing at us.

With sumptuous sets, from lively Peking town to Aladdin’s shimmering cave, the show was a visual treat, and a talented dance ensemble did Stillie Dee’s excellent choreography proud.

What a treat to see panto dame veteran Christopher Biggins in action as Widow Twankey. Working a series of colourful outfits - among them a washing machine and a giant teacup - he was a delightful dame. Some may prefer their dames more vulgar, with bawdy asides and outrageous costumes, but this merry widow was more of a glamorous big sister, and all the more endearing for it.

Simon Webbe melted hearts in boy band Blue, and as Aladdin he’s a dashing leading man. He blended romantic charm with comic warmth, pulling off a hit double act with Billy. Also impressive was Sarah Goggin as a refreshingly feisty sword-fighting Princess Jasmine and David O’Mahony, excellent as evil Abanazar, Carl Sanderson was a slick Emperor Ming and Emily Beth Harrington shone as Schererazade, spirit of the lamp. And well done to the fabulous Sunbeams from the Sara Packham Theatre School.

Runs until January 20, 2019.

by Emma Clayton