Wednesday, 10 November 2021

It's Behind You! Pocket Size Theatres Pantomime Preview 2021

The Pantomime website ITSBEHINDYOU.COM - The Magic of Pantomime diary lists around 250 professional pantomimes around the country this year, after last year pandemic disrupted year which shut the few Pantomimes that actually opened soon in their runs, so there is certain to be a show near you. This family Christmas treat will hopefully bounce back bigger and better than ever (Oh Yes it will) and give the families a much-needed, feel-good uplift around Christmas. How do you choose which to go to? The obvious choice is the one nearest to your family but if you are willing to travel a little further there are many excellent shows that will make the journey worthwhile. 

Look for past winners of the Pantomime Awards or well-known stars who you or your children like or choose the larger venues where the on-stage budgets are bigger and the shows more spectacular. Many of the smaller venues still produce great shows on a fraction of those budgets. There are so many to pick from but here are some of my personal favourites from around the country.

In Scotland, the King's Theatre in Edinburgh has Sleeping Beauty with the irrepressible Allan Stewart as Auntie May and the King's Theatre in Glasgow has Cinderella with Elaine C Smith (past winner of Best Fairy 2018). Both venues are past winners of Best Pantomime in 2019. These two shows revolve entirely around these two Scottish pantomime superstars.

In Wales at the New Theatre in Cardiff, Paul Chuckle, the surviving member of the Chuckle Brothers (winner of Best Double Act 2018) is teaming up with Gareth Gates and rugby legend Gareth Thomas in Aladdin but expect the old Chuckle Brother routines which still raise plenty of laughs.

On the south coast, Chris Jarvis (Cbeebies star and past winner Leading man 2019) makes his stage debut as a Dame (Betty Bonbon Nightshade) in Beauty and the Beast with EastEnders Michelle Collins, at the Poole Lighthouse. Chris has played the comic or leading man for 25 years and he also directs the show. As Chris said “There have been so many brilliant Dames, so there is a lot to live up to. I have had to learn to do my make-up a certain way and the wig is very Mrs Slocombe (on the classic TV show Are you being served?). When you look back at people like Les Dawson and Billy Dainty, the way they played Dame was so skilled”. He says the script is “slightly saucy, seaside postcard humour, double entendre but if I think if it would offend or upset my Mum then I don’t do it on stage”.

Strictly Come Dancing fans can catch Craig Revel Horwood in Cinderella at the Mayflower in Southampton (with Debbie McGee and Sooty), Anton Du Beck is in Cinderella at Richmond in Surrey (which won best villain in 2019) and Shirley Ballas is the Wicked Queen in Snow White and the Seven dwarfs at Assembly Hall in Tunbridge Wells.

In East London, the Hackney Empire has Jack and the Beanstalk with the marvellous Clive Rowe (Best Dame winner 2019) returning as Dame Trot. This wonderful old theatre serves its local community and promotes diversity on stage and in its audience better than any other.

In South London, the recently refurbished Fairfield Hall in Croydon has Beauty and the Beast with children’s favourites Dick and Dom and the ageless Derek Griffiths. This venue won best set design in 2020 with moving images as a backcloth.

The London Palladium, for a time in the Sixties it was the home of Pantomime, it returns with its grand variety style show with a familiar line up including Julian Clary (Best Principal boy 2017 winner so expect some outrageous adult double entendre) in Pantoland at the Palladium with the addition of pop legend, Donny Osmond. These spectaculars have won Best Costumes 2020, Best Special Effects 2017 & 2018, Best Musical achievement 2017, Best staging 2017, Best leading man 2018, Best Ensemble 2020, and Best Pantomime in 2018.

On the East coast at the Southend Cliffs Pavilion, Brian Conley will again laugh his way through Cinderella with Ben Stock (past winner of Best Ugly Sister in 2018). The venue won best speciality act in 2019 with Diversity who this year are appearing at Milton Keynes Theatre in Jack and the Beanstalk.

Just North of London, the excellent Stevenage Gordon Craig Theatre (past winner Best Principal Girl 2020, Best Pantomime 2019, best Choreography 2018) has Aladdin with Steven Serlin as Abanazaar and a proper Principal Boy, Alexandra Wright. This thigh-slapping tradition has sadly declined but remains an opportunity to even up the gender balance of casts.

In the Midlands, the huge Birmingham Hippodrome (Best Pantomime 2017, Best Sound 2020, Best Lighting 2018 winner) offers another spectacular show with Goldilocks and the Three Bears with Jason Donavan joining one of the best panto comics Matt Slack (Best Comic 2017, Best Songsheet 2018 winner). The smaller Town Hall at Loughborough has Aladdin with Morgan Brind (Best set design winner in 2018!) as Widow Twankey. This venue has previously won Best Villain 2018, Best Newcomer 2019, and Best Dame 2020 awards.

In the North of England, you can see Alexandra Burke and another very funny man Ben Nickless (Best Comic 2019) in Aladdin at Opera House Manchester or one of the best of the modern Dames, Damian Williams (Best Dame 2017 winner) in Sleeping Beauty at Sheffield Lyceum (Best Pantomime twice in 2018 and 2020) and further North, the hilarious clown, Danny Adams (Best Comic 2018) returns in Snow White with Joe McElderry at the Newcastle Theatre Royal (Best lighting 2019).

At the West coast seaside town of Blackpool at The Grand (Best script 2019, Best Choreography 2020) you can see Snow White and the Seven dwarfs with Corrie’s Vicky Entwistle and the madcap Steve Royle and afterwards enjoy the bracing sea air!

If you are looking for something unique in Pantomime then the York Grand Opera has a new title of Dick Turpin Rides Again, written and starring Berwick Kaler, now 74, (Lifetime Achievement award winner in 2019) with his usual crew of David Leonard (30 shows with Kaler), Martin Barass and Suzie Cooper and a bag full of Wagon Wheels. It is a unique experience as the audience wait for Kaler’s entrance call “Me Babbies, me bairns” and seem to know his every line as well as he does!

Whichever show you book for, follow the Covid Protocols at the venue and go ready to laugh and cheer and celebrate the return of live Theatre as well as support your local Venue. The first shows open on 13th November at Oldham Coliseum and the last to close in early February 2022 are at Epsom Playhouse (Best pantomime 2020), The Alban Arena in St Albans (best supporting male 2019) and at the Buxton Opera House so there is plenty of time to fit a visit or two in.

This year the Pantomime Awards will be visiting over 210 Pantomimes around the UK with the Awards being announced in April 2022.

Pocket Size Theatre expects to publish reviews on many of these shows over the Christmas season.

Written by Nick Wayne 
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