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Top 10 pantomime picks for 2017

Julian Clary and Elaine Paige, who star in the London Palladium’s Dick Whittington
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As the festive season gets underway, Paul Vale shares his picks from the UK’s Christmas theatre offerings

1. Aladdin, Towngate Theatre, Basildon

November 28-January 2

Starring: Simon Fielding, Sophie Ladds

In my opinion, the Basildon pantomime is one of the highlights of the Christmas season. Simon Fielding produces, directs and stars in a traditional show that’s big on laughs and even bigger on choreography. What makes it really special, however, is the use of young performers. They’re not just there for the cute factor, they are integral members of the cast and company. Brad Fitt’s script is naturally skewed towards local Essex references and regular performer Sophie Ladds is arguably one of the best female villains in the business. Her Aunty Banazar this year could well be a first. www.towngatetheatre.co.uk

2. Dick Whittington, London Palladium

December 9-January 14

Starring: Julian Clary, Elaine Paige, Charlie Stemp

The fairy godmother of all pantomimes. Panto giant Qdos Entertainment showed London audiences how it’s done last year with Cinderella. 

Cinderella review at the London Palladium – ‘gloriously excessive’

Sumptuous sets, outrageous costumes and, thanks to Julian Clary, a reason for grown-ups to cough up for a ticket. Expect plenty of jokes about Dick from Clary, who returns this year along with Nigel Havers and Paul Zerdin. Musical theatre fans will relish the chance to see Elaine Paige back on stage as Queen Rat and it’s a last chance to see Olivier award-winner Charlie Stemp before he heads off to Broadway and Hello, Dolly!. www.reallyusefultheatres.co.uk

3. Snow White – Rotten to the Core, Above the Stag, London

December 1-January 13

Starring: Matthew Baldwin,  Shaun Mendum and Scott Howlett

The Above the Stag pantos are fast approaching legendary status. Written by Jon Bradfield and Martin Hooper, they have been a mainstay since 2009, regularly selling out long before opening night. Bradfield and Hooper’s reliable formula fuses traditional pantomime characters and situations with modern club culture and social satire. It is most definitely not one for the kids, but your mum will probably find it a hoot. This year marks the welcome return of Matthew Baldwin, who last appeared in 2013 as the convivial Dame Trott in Jack Off the Beanstalk, but was equally on form playing the villain Hao Hung in the previous year’s Get Aladdin. www.abovethestag.com

4. Rapunzel, Theatre Royal Stratford East, London

Michael Bertenshaw in rehearsals for Theatre Royal Stratford East’s Rapunzel. Photo: Scott Rylander

November 27-January 13

Starring: Michael Bertenshaw, Juliet Okotie

If you listen to the marketing hype around the renovation of Stratford in the past decade, then you’ll know that the area has been labelled the International Quarter. If this is the case, then Theatre Royal Stratford East truly serves up a contemporary pantomime for its community, complete with a colourful design and catchy, original tunes. Rapunzel is not one of the usual pantomime narratives, but TRSE is renowned for mixing things up and keeping things real. Or as real as they can be in Stratfordia. Regular performer Michael Bertenshaw is always good value, either as dame or villain. www.stratfordeast.com

5. King Tut – A Pyramid Panto, King’s Head Theatre, London

November 24-January 6

Starring: John Savournin, Alys Roberts 

Writer, director and performer John Savournin was initially known for his adaptation of light opera for the small stage. His Christmas pantomime is now established as the King’s Head Theatre’s attempt at the hugely difficult task of bringing new stories to the regular canon. This year is no exception, and if this Ancient Egyptian romp is anything like 2014’s Billy the Kid – The Panto, then it will be money well spent. The show is usually geared towards an adult audience, although there are several enterprisingly child-friendly matinees listed – this is Islington, after all. www.charlescourtopera.com

John Savournin in King Tut – A Pyramid Panto

6. Jack and the Beanstalk, New Wimbledon Theatre, London

December 9-January 14

Starring: Al Murray, Clive Rowe

Once a bastion of First Family Entertainment and a stream of movie star appearances, I shall be watching this year’s production with interest. Al Murray, perhaps best known as the Pub Landlord, will make his panto debut as Idle Al, but making his Wimbledon debut is Olivier award-winner Clive Rowe as Dame Trot. Rowe has long been associated with the Hackney Empire pantomimes and was nominated for an Olivier in 2008 for Mother Goose. I’ll be interested to see how South Londoners react to Rowe’s dame in the first production of Jack and the Beanstalk at the venue in 15 years. www.atgtickets.com

7. Cinderella, King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

December 2-January 21

Starring: Andy Gray, Grant Stott, Allan Stewart

I’ve always wanted to travel to Scotland to see a panto, but my schedule in December barely affords me the time to do Christmas shopping, let alone a city break. I find the King’s panto intriguing, as I have now seen a couple of plays at the Edinburgh Fringe featuring the Scottish double-act Andy Gray and Grant Stott. Here’s a pair who may not be the most versatile of actors, but they appear unafraid of a challenge and know their audience extremely well. www.edtheatres.com

8. Cinderella, Birmingham Hippodrome

December 19-January 28

Starring: Beverley Knight, Danny Mac, Matt Slack, Suzanne Shaw

The furthest north I’ll get this year is Birmingham, where the panto at the Hippodrome was once the jewel in Qdos Entertainment’s crown. The Palladium may have ousted it from the top spot, but it’s still a massive show packed with laughter, magic and plenty of local colour. Bodyguard and Memphis star Beverley Knight will make her debut as the Fairy Godmother, but the indefatigable comedian Matt Slack, back for his fifth year, is the power behind this show. www.birminghamhippodrome.com

9. Robin Hood, New Victoria Theatre, Woking

December 9-January 7

Starring: Shane Richie, Peter Piper, Ashleigh Gray

Shane Richie has had a remarkably varied career. At heart, however, the EastEnders star is an entertainer from his roots as a Pontins bluecoat to musical theatre appearances in Grease, Boogie Nights and Scrooge. Understandably he is no stranger to pantomime and he is undoubtedly the headliner at Woking’s New Victoria Theatre this year. I may have missed Ashleigh Gray’s multiple stints as Elphaba in Wicked, but I know from knockout performances in Cool Rider and Betwixt! that she is just as fantastic a comedy actor as she is a vocalist. www.atgtickets.com

10. Mother Goose, Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield

December 8-January 7

Starring: Jake Canuso, Damian Williams, Andy Day

I for one mourn the day that Croydon’s Fairfield Halls closed its doors for an extended makeover and lost its pantomime. Producers Evolution are still very much in business, however, with eight major pantos throughout the UK, including Mother Goose in Sheffield. It’s good to see these rare titles returning to the canon – whatever happened to Babes in the Wood? For adults, Jake Canuso of Benidorm fame will be the familiar face here, while kids will warm to CBeebies’ Andy Day, but it’s Damian Williams’ gravelly voiced Dame who is consistently an audience favourite. www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk

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