Sunday, 13 November 2022

Its that time of year again, OH YES IT IS! Pocket Size Theatre's 2022 Pantomime Preview

This year the Pantomime headlines will be grabbed by the two star-led, high-production value shows in London at the London Palladium and the Duke of York but there are plenty of other very good shows all-round the United Kingdom offering a very good Christmas family trip to the theatre. The Pantomime website ITS BEHIND YOU DOT COM - The Magic of Pantomime diary lists around 250 professional pantomimes around the country this year, so there is certain to be a show near you. The Charity UK Pantomime Association seeks to celebrate the very best of Pantomime with its Awards and past winners are one guide to which shows to book for.

The London Palladium makes a welcome return to proper storytelling pantomime this year after two variety-style productions with Jack and The Beanstalk and we can expect some stage magic for the climactic end of Act 1 climbing the beanstalk scene. However, it is the addition of Alexandra Burke (2021 Best Mythical Being Pantomime award winner) and Dawn French (2019 Best Villain Nominee ) that really catches the eye. They join the familiar line up including Julian Clary (Best Principal boy 2017 winner) so expect some outrageous adult double entendre, Paul Zerdin and Nigel Havers. These spectaculars have won, Best Special Effects 2017 & 2018, Best Musical achievement & Best staging 2017, Best leading man, Villain, Script, and Best Pantomime in 2018 and Best Ensemble & Best Costumes in 2020.

Down in Covent Garden at the Duke of York, Sir Ian Mckellan returns to where he triumphed as King Lear as Mother Goose with the brilliant John Bishop as her husband Vic, and Anna-Jane Casey as the Goose. After the London run, they tour to Chichester, Sheffield, Wolverhampton, Liverpool, Oxford, Dublin and Cardiff until the end of March recreating a 19th-century tradition of Pantomimes running outside of the Christmas season. At the Lyric Hammersmith (2021 Best Panto, script and supporting actress) they present Jack and The Beanstalk with Jack played by Leah St Luce and Jill by Maddison Bulleyment giving it a modern twist.

Just outside London at Richmond in Surrey (which won best villain in 2019) TV host Matt Baker is joined by the Grand Dame, Nigel Ellacott (UKPA Lifetime Award winner 2021) in Goldilocks and the Three Bears along with magician Phil Hitchcock in what promises to be an entertaining show at this lovely Frank Matcham designed theatre. At High Wycombe’s Swan Theatre, you can see the pantomime debut of TV star, Vernon Kay as Dandini in Cinderella and at Canterbury’s Marlowe Theatre it is Sleeping Beauty with Ore Oduba (fresh from his Rocky Horror Tour), Carrie Hope Fletcher (who starred recently in Andrew Lloyds Webber’s Cinderella), ventriloquist Max Fulham (2020 Award winner) and the brilliant regular Ben Roddy (2018 Best Dame Winner). Marlowe’s casting suggests they are determined to match last year’s show, Jack and the Beanstalk which won Best Pantomime & Best Director Awards. Just north of London Watford Palace (2021 Best staging winner) offers Beauty and the Beast. But there are well over twenty Pantomimes within the M25 and some just outside so there is plenty for the London audiences to choose between.

At the other end of the UK, In Scotland, The Kings Panto Edinburgh has moved to The Festival Theatre for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs with the irrepressible Allan Stewart as Auntie May with Grant Stott and to the west, at Glasgow Kings the charming Elaine C Smith (past winner of Best Fairy 2018) returns with Jonny Mac in Beauty and the Beast. Both venues are past winners of Best Pantomime in 2019. These are Scottish panto royalty!

Over in Belfast at the Grand Opera House is Cinderella with local star attraction May McFettridge returning and directed and choreographed by Jonny Bowles ( 2022 Best choreography winner).

In Wales at Cardiff New Theatre, rugby legend Gareth Thomas returns in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and is joined by H from Steps and Ventriloquist Steve Hewlett. While just along the coast at the Swansea Grand regular Dame Kev Johns is joined by Joe McFadden in Beauty and the Beast.

In the North of England, you can see funny man Ben Nickless (Best Comic 2019) as Smee to Jason Mountford’s Captain Hook in Peter Pan at Opera House, Manchester and the hilarious clown, Danny Adams (Best Comic 2018) returns with Joe McElderry and Flawless in at the Newcastle Theatre Royal (Best lighting 2019) in Cinderella. On the West coast seaside resort of Blackpool at The Grand (Best script 2019 , Best Choreography 2020) you can see the madcap Steve Royle as Silly Billy in Sleeping Beauty with Hayley Tamaddon (Dancing on ice) and combine it with the new addition of the Blackpool Pleasure Gardens pantomime of Cinderella with Charlotte Dawson (Les Dawson’s daughter).

In the Midlands, the huge Birmingham Hippodrome (Best Pantomime 2017, Best Lighting 2018 winner, Best Sound 2020) offers another spectacular show with Suzanne Shaw, Dr Ranj and Marti Pellow joining one of the best panto comics Matt Slack (Best Comic 2017, Best Songsheet 2018 winner) in Dick Whittington. At Derby Arena (Best set design 2018), Aladdin is the show with John Thomson (Cold Feet) and Morgan Brind (2021 Best Dame). In Northampton Royal and Derngate we will see Jack and the Beanstalk with Keala Settle (from the Greatest Showman), Bob Golding (2019 Best supporting male) and Richard David-Caine (2020 Best villain). At Chesterfield Winding Wheel Michele Collins stars in Sleeping Beauty. All these shows must be well worth a visit

Further south Salisbury Playhouse returns to full Pantomime (Winner best panto 2018) with Cinderella written by Plested, Brown and Wisher with Ugly Sisters, Hashtag and Viral, seen last year at Newbury Corn Exchange. Further west at the wonderful Bath Theatre Royal regulars Jon Monie and Nick Wilton are joined by Tom Lister in Aladdin with a new script from Jon Monie (2019 Best Script winner). On the South Coast Chris Jarvis (Cbeebies star and past winner Leading man 2019) is writing, directing, and starring at Poole Lighthouse in Cinderella with Tyger Drew-Honey (OutNumbered) while nearby Jason Donovan joins the magical Richard Cadell and Sooty at the Mayflower Southampton in Goldilocks and the Three Bears. At Eastbourne’s Devonshire Park Theatre, there is comic Tucker as Wishee Washee and Katherine Glover as a traditional Principal Boy in Aladdin. At Basingstoke’s Anvil, the production of Cinderella has Debbie McGee joining Nic Gibney and Duncan Burt (the 2021 Best Ugly Sisters winners).

The first Pantomimes open at Bolton Victoria Halls and Oldham Coliseum on 12th November running through until January and the last performances at Birmingham Hippodrome and Duke of York's in London are on 29th January 2023, so there is a wide window to catch a Pantomime this Christmas. I recommend if you can, seeing one of the star-driven shows AND an in house ensemble crafted show where the focus is on storytelling like Liverpool Everyman’s Red Riding Hood or Epsom Playhouse’s Dick Whittington, both past winners of Best Pantomime (under 500 seats) Awards.

This year the Pantomime Awards will be visiting over 250 Pantomimes around the UK with the Awards being announced in April 2023. Pocket Size Theatre expects to publish reviews on around twenty pantomimes over the Christmas season.

Article by Nick Wayne  

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