Sunday, 15 December 2019

Pantomime preview 2019/20

As we head through November towards Christmas all over the country venues are launching their final theatre ticket sales push and cast and technical teams gather for rehearsals ahead of the first opening of this season's Pantomimes. This wonderful British family Christmas tradition is so important to the financial health of the venues and offers so many young children their first live theatre experience. Wherever you live there will be a professional pantomime within a short drive of your home and every family should go to at least one this season. 

In the recent Pocket Sized survey we looked at the range of titles and ticket prices for this year's offering but the best known cast and highest ticket prices do not always guarantee the best shows. GB Pantomime Awards is now in its fourth year celebrating the talent that bring these shows to the public and its awards are one pointer to the best shows. 

As is so often the case the most popular title this year is Cinderella with 35 productions in the survey. Looking through this year's rags to riches productions three caught my eye. Cinderella at the Fairfield Halls, Croydon (by Imagine Theatre) with tickets up to £55.75 (£15 the cheapest) sees a return to Pantomime for this refurbished venue and with the brilliant punster Tim Vine as Buttons and Strictly winner Ore Oduba making his pantomime debut as Dandini, it promises to be a lively fun show. Across London at the Lyric, Hammersmith there will a traditional ensemble production with tickets from £10 to £42 and further north at the Theatre Royal, Nottingham (QDOS Entertainment) will feature the Best ugly sisters of 2019 from Coronation Street, Les Dennis and Connor McIntyre. 

Aladdin features in 30 productions with the one at the De Montfort Hall, Leicester (Imagine Theatre) seeing the returning X Factor winner Sam Bailey, last year's Best supporting female 2019 and popstar Antony Costa from Blue while just £22 will buy a ticket the South Hill Arts Park Centre, Bracknell version with staging and set by last year's winner Victoria Spearing for her Dick Whittington at that venue.

The 21 Snow White and the Seven dwarfs include the hilarious Matt Slack now a
regular at the Birmingham Hippodrome (QDOS Entertainment) with the fourth highest price of £55.50 worth every penny alongside the wonderful Lesley Joseph, a previous nominee and the excellent Flawless. This team were a 2018 nominee for best Panto for Cinderella at the Birmingham Hippodrome. Another favourite Pantomime venue with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is the Richmond Theatre (QDOS Entertainment) with Jo Brand and Jon Clegg. This venue won Best male villain in 2019 with Robert Lindsay as Hook in Peter Pan. Another past winner of awards the Opera House, Manchester (QDOS Entertainment) also stages Snow White with Craig Revel Horwood and Eric Potts both dressed as females! Last year's Best comic Ben Nickless returns to the Manchester Opera House as well.

Jack and the Beanstalk features in 21 productions in the survey but without doubt the leading production is at the Kings Theatre, Glasgow (QDOS Entertainment) with two of the top Pantomime stars, Elaine C Smith and Johnny Mac. This venue won Pantomime of the year for Venues over 1500 seats in 2019 for Aladdin and was a 2018 nominee for Sleeping Beauty.

Away from the biggest titles is the the biggest Pantomime with Goldilocks and the Three Bears set in a circus at the London Palladium (QDOS Entertainment), the most expensive ticket at £175 (£34.50 the cheapest) but with extraordinary production values, costumes and sets and returning stars Julian Clary, Paul O'Grady and Nigel Havers. This venue was the 2018 winner for Dick Whittington. Last year's Pantomime of the year for between 750 and 1500 seats with Beauty and the Beast, at Edinburgh King's Theatre follows up with their version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears (QDOS Entertainment) with another of the great Scottish Pantomime stars Allan Stewart returning with his Auntie May character.

Peter Pan is now well established as a pantomime title with 16 productions and the Mayflower Theatre, Southhampton (QDOS Entertainment) promises a spectacular show including most of the Birmingham Hippodrome cast from last year including Darren Day who took over from Jimmy Osmond at short notice last year as Hook and Jamie Hensley as Peter Pan. The Liverpool Empire (QDOS Entertainment) and the Blackpool Grand (UK Productions) look good alternatives.

Dick Whittington is a great title but there are only 9 productions in the survey with the best likely to be at the gorgeous Hackney Empire where Best Dame 2019 winner Clive Rowe for Aladdin at Hackney Empire returns. He has a delightful stage presence and drives the show with an easy charm.

The 14 productions of Beauty and the beast often suffer by comparison with the
Disney version but the production at the Theatre Royal Bath (UK Productions) always delivers and is a perfect venue for Pantomime. It features again Jan Monie who has established a strong local following and last year wrote an award winning script for Blackpool. The Beauty and the Beast at the Theatre Royal, Newcastle Upon Tyne (QDOS Entertainment) will be staged around father and son comedy duo Danny Adams and Clive Webb and is sure to be a funny show. The Beauty and the Beast at the Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage (Jordan Productions) follows on from the venue's Pantomime of the Year under 750 seats for Snow White. 

17 Sleeping Beauty productions are always intriguing to see how they present the 100 year time shift and there will surely be great differences between these four versions. Sleeping Beauty at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre will feature 2019 Best choreography winner Katie Beard for Cinderella and was a 2018 best Panto venue nominee for Dick Whittington. Whereas Sleeping Beauty at the Palace Theatre, Watford Is written by Andrew Pollard and designed by Cleo Pettitt and is sure to have some fresh original ideas.

Sleeping Beauty at the York Theatre Royal will also feel different this year following the retirement after 40 years of GB Pantomime lifetime achievement winner Berwick Kaler as Dame but regulars Martin Barrass as the Queen, Suzy Cooper as Beauty and the dastardly David Leonard as the wicked Evil Diva all return. The Sleeping Beauty at the St Albans Arena (Evolution Productions) will feature Rita Simons (EastEnders’ Roxy Mitchell), Best supporting male winner Bob Golding (back in a dress) and St Albans favourite Ian Kirby in a show written by the excellent Paul Henry.

Of the other titles Robin Hood at the Salisbury Playhouse promises brilliant sets, costumes and a strong ensemble production as he did when it won in 2018 as best Pantomime for Jack & The Beanstalk and another top venue offers Mother Goose at the Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury (Evolution Productions). 

There are so many good shows to see and it is always a joy to see young audiences interacting with the cast in the traditional shout outs of "behind you" , booing the villains and the fun of the Songsheet with young audience members on stage. There is nothing like it and I urge you to to support your local production. 

Pocket sized Theatre will bring you reviews of some of the top shows.

Article by Nick Wayne 
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