The curtain will go up on a festive pantomime at Telford’s Oakengates Theatre @ The Place on Thursday – and audiences are being urged to be in fine voice.
People who buy tickets for a production of Aladdin will be encouraged to sing along – and there will even be a song about their home town.
Ian Billings, who is directing this year’s show and will also star as Emperor Chop Suey, said: “We’ve got a real crackerjack pantomime in store this year.
“Audience participation is high on our agenda and there’ll be plenty of singing. We’ve even got a tune called the Telford Song and people will be encouraged to give it a go.
“We’ve written new lyrics for that this week. It’s good fun and people will recognise plenty of the things and places that we sing about.”
Mr Billings, who hails from Wolverhampton, said pantomime was a firm favourite in Telford.
He said: “This is my sixth year at Oakengates Theatre @ The Place and each year the audiences enjoy it more and more.
“We have a lot of people who return each Christmas to enjoy the show. Pantomime is a great tradition and it gives families and friends the chance to get out together. Our show is suitable for people of all ages. The kids always love it and there are also lots of jokes to get the adults rolling in the aisles.”
Mr Billings said Oakengates Theatre was a terrific venue for pantomime and a great show was in store. He added: “There’s a good chemistry among the cast. We can’t wait for the curtain to rise.”
Star performer Asa Elliott, who features in the ITV hit Benidorm, will lead the cast as Aladdin.
He said this year’s production was only his second pantomime, following a production in Bournemouth last year with Su Pollard, from Hi-de-Hi!
He said: “Last year was my debut and I absolutely adored it. Pantomime’s a real feel-good thing. After last year, I wondered why I hadn’t done more of it. It was great fun.
“I’m hoping the crowd will get involved when the curtain goes up on our performance. To be honest, I think they will. The reception I’ve received from people locally has been overwhelming.
“When I step out of the venue, people come up to me to say hello. They recognise me from the TV and are very complimentary. We’re going to play to big audiences and it’s shaping up to be a great show.”
Asa added that the production was likely to be one of the funniest in the UK.
He said: “We started rehearsals this week and the banter is already flying. The people in the cast are all a bunch of comedians. You can’t move or say anything without somebody else cracking a joke.”
Asa said he had been a fan of pantomime as a child and was thrilled that he was now the star of the show.
“Lots of people have their first experience of the theatre when they’re taken to the pantomime as a kid,” he said. “The panto brings a new audience through the doors and kids take that love of entertainment with them as they grow up.
“But it’s not just for the kids. Panto is for people of all ages and all generations. Hopefully we’ll get lots of families through the door because we’ve got a great show for them.”
Aladdin is set to become the most successful pantomime in Telford’s history, with Oakengates Theatre boss Debbie King predicting record receipts.
She said the venue was on course to attract more than 17,000 visitors, which would beat previous box office records.
Ms King said: “People love a good panto and that’s exactly what’s in store. We’ve got a brilliant cast and a number of top flight performers.
“Pantomime is the most popular event at Oakengates Theatre and we’re expecting this year’s to break all records. We’re expecting an audience of more than 17,000 and tickets have been selling quickly.
“We’ve had quite a bit of work done at the theatre recently and so people can enjoy the great new facilities. When people come to the theatre they’ll be able to find out about the other great shows that we’ve got going on through the rest of the year.
“Aladdin promises to be a top rate show and we’d encourage people to book as soon as they can, so that they don’t miss out on the best seats. Tickets have been selling very quickly.”
Tickets for Aladdin at Oakengates Theatre @ The Place are available from www.theplacetelford.com or by calling (01952) 382382,