This isn’t an exhaustive list because there’ll be a panto somewhere in practically every postcode come December, but it is a rundown of your options – financial and artistic – for a special Christmas outing. I’ve averaged six pantomimes in recent years, so am already adopting the ‘brace’ position …
In the West End, it’s a straight fight between Aladdin and Cinderella – the Disney Aladdin has been in residence at the Prince Edward Theatre since June with an Alan Mencken score and tiptop production values. No cast changes yet announced, so you can hope to see the fabulous Trevor Dion Nicholas as Genie, alongside Dean John-Wilson and ex-Sugababe Jade Ewen as Aladdin and his princess.
Cinderella opens at the Palladium on 10 December for ten weeks and the casting proves that while kids may love panto, it’s their grans who buy the tickets – most of the lead names are truly vintage: Paul O’Grady, Julian Clary, Nigel Havers won’t mean much to the average eight-year-old. Even Lee Mead as Prince Charming is more likely to mopisten the knickers of your Auntie Flo than your teenage niece. Good news that Sheridan Smith’s talented stand-in Natasha J Barnes is to play Cinders and finally gets to go to the ball in her own right.
THE RELIABLE STANDARDS
ATG Theatres and its partner First Family Entertainment have the formula practically frozen, and recycling scripts, stars and sequins around regional theatres means high gloss without West End ticket prices. I like Wimbledon best – it’s the biggest and grandest Frank Matcham theatre outside the West End, it’s in Zone 3, has a solid Dame in Matthew Kelly, the perfect London-based story in Dick Whittington, and always a great atmosphere.
The almost equally lovely but more intimate theatre at Richmond (Zone 4) welcomes Maureen Lipman as the wicked fairy in its Sleeping Beauty with Chris Jarvis from CBeebies to please the kids, and even from my jaundiced standpoint there’s little more heartening than the procession of excited tinies from Richmond station on their first ever visit to a real live theatre. And this one is a beauty. Both Wimbledon and Richmond have a lot of matinees and early evening shows to avoid tears before bedtime.
London has seen countless productions of Peter Pan and J M Barrie did set it firmly in Bloomsbury but Greenwich Theatre is taking a more radical, musical theatre approach, with a Dame played by writer and director Andrew Pollard and a cartoonish Captain Hook in Anthony Spargo. It’s one of the first out of the starting blocks, too, running from November 18, and has one of the best concession policies with all child tickets half price.
In over a hundred years, Wilton’s Music Hall has never staged a traditional family Christmas pantomime. Mother Goose will feature comedian Roy Hudd, basing his performance on the famous Victorian comic Dan Leno who pioneered stand-up comedy in the East End, lays claim to be the first pantomime dame, and for whom the story was originally scripted in 1902. Hudd is a notable expert on music hall as well as a consummate showman, and this should be a rare treat. Tickets here. £112
… AND HACKNEY EMPIRE
After Diane Abbott MP, the most famous Hackney sideshow has to be the Empire’s Christmas Pantomime, now a time-honoured tradition of diversity casting with the traditional cross-dressing format and freshly scripted every season by the award-winning Hackney team of Susie McKenna and Steve Edis. Gavin Stokes, recently Nicely-Nicely in Guys and Dolls is Nanny Nora to Alexia Khadime’s Sleeping Beauty, while as dark fairy Carabosse the wonderful voice of Sharon D Clarke promises blues in the night. Tickets here. £110
Alexia Khadime (sleeping) and Sharon D Clarke (terrifying the shit out of tinies)
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