AS excitement builds for the festive season, the creative minds behind the Gala Theatre’s pantomime have shared their approach to bringing magical stories to the stage.

For more than a decade Neil Armstrong and Paul Hartley have starred in the Durham City venue’s annual panto, delighting audience members of all ages with their jokes and crazy antics.

Five years ago, the talented duo took on the additional roles of writing and directing the show and are now busy with the final preparations for this year’s production, Aladdin.

The panto runs from Thursday, November 21 until Sunday, January 5 and tickets are selling fast, with some shows already sold out.

The show follows streetwise young Aladdin as he attempts to make his town rich by marrying a princess. However, the evil baddie Abanazar’s quest for riches and world domination could scupper the young hero’s plans.

Meanwhile, the hilarious Widow Twanky and loveable laundry lad Wishee Washee will have everyone in stitches.

For Paul and Neil, an exciting story is at the heart of every good panto, and the pair like to add their own sub plots to the classic tales audiences know and love.

Neil, who is playing Abanazar, said: “Paul and I don’t do pantos where there is say a juggling act, followed by a song and then a little bit of dialogue. We prefer to come up with an actual story that the kids can follow, with a hero and an antagonist and sub plots running through it. With Aladdin there are certain elements you must include such as a magic cave, a genie and a flying carpet but we then write a story within that.

“The dialogue is the easy part. Paul and I just sit in a room and try to make each other laugh and if we do it goes in.”

Paul, who is playing Wishee Washee said: “A lot of the planning for the following year’s panto takes place in the dressing room during the current year’s panto. Last year, we were performing Snow White and discussing ideas of what we could do for Aladdin in between scenes.

“Neil and I’s priority is to look at what we can do that we have never done before, and what we have done in the past that works well that we can adapt and do differently.” Tickets for Aladdin are priced from £7 to £18, with family tickets starting at £54.

To book, visit or call 03000-266-600.