Pick of the pantos for 2018
Peter Pan – Hippodrome, Birmingham
December 19 – January 27
Matt Slack, Jimmy Osmond, Meera Syal
Before the season at the London Palladium, the jewel in Qdos Entertainment’s crown was the Hippodrome pantomime. It remains a thoroughly entertaining, and occasionally innovative show full of big-budget effects to equal that of its London cousin. There is an all-star cast including Jimmy Osmond as Hook, Meera Syal as the Mermaid and dancer and Union J vocalist Jaymi Hensley as Peter. The star of this production however is undoubtedly the Hippodrome’s regular comedian Matt Slack, returning for a sixth year to raise the roof.
Snow White – Towngate, Basildon
November 28 – January 5
Simon Fielding, Sophie Ladds, Daniel Stockton
Of all the traditional pantomimes over the holiday season, Simon Fielding’s is often the most satisfying. In the months leading up to December, Fielding drills an enthusiastic troupe of local youngsters in ambitious choreographic routines and comedy skits. The hard work and dedication pays off and each year, Basildon residents are treated to a show that confidently punches well above its weight. Fielding is a well-loved fixture in the comedy lead, while the multi-talented Sophie Ladds will undoubtedly relish the comedic opportunities presented by the role of Wicked Queen.
Snow White – Palladium, London
December 8 – January 13
Dawn French, Julian Clary, Gary Wilmot
With the big budget and the brightest stars, there is weight to the claim by Qdos’ pantomime at the Palladium of being the ‘Best Panto in London’. Following Cinderella and Dick Whittington, the obvious choice was Aladdin but producer and director Michael Harrison was up against the Disney production still running at the Prince Edward – at least until August. Snow White, however, will provide plenty of thrills, not least with Dawn French making her pantomime debut as the Wicked Queen. Regulars Julian Clary, Paul Zerdin, Gary Wilmot and Nigel Havers handle all the comedy, while the romance is provided by Charlie Stemp as Prince Charming and Danielle Hope in the title role.
Jack and the Beanstalk – Grand Opera House, Belfast
December 1 – January 13
May McFettridge, David Bedella
Entertainer John Linehan has topped the bill as his alter-ego May McFettridge for 28 consecutive years at the Grand Opera House in Belfast. Known locally as ‘The Face That Sank a Thousand Ships’ McFettridge is huge in Northern Ireland, with a massive local following. While a tough act to contend with on stage, McFettridge appears to have found a worthy foil in the West End’s David Bedella. A consummate villain, Bedella played Hook to great acclaim last year and returns as the Giant’s henchman Fleshcreep. Directed by award-winning director and choreographer Andrew Wright it’s sure to be one giant adventure.
Beauty and the Beast – King’s Theatre , Edinburgh
December 1 – January 20
Allan Stewart, Grant Stott
The usual line-up of Allan Stewart, Andy Gray and Grant Stott has taken a bit of a blow this year, as Gray has sadly had to drop out due to ill health. Fans of the King’s panto may be disappointed, but Stewart and Stott have enough energy, talent and goodwill behind them to keep this particular Qdos Entertainment production afloat. That is at least until 2020, when the show will have to find a new home for a few seasons while the proposed £20 million renovations are undertaken.
The Grand Old Dame of York – Theatre Royal, York
December 13 – February 2
It might not be a familiar title, but it’s certainly a familiar face to the residents of York. This year, Berwick Kaler celebrates his 40th year as the dame. Acknowledged as one of the best dames in the business, the Theatre Royal panto has long shunned stunt casting and risque humour in favour of local humour and traditional routines. It’s far from stale as Kaler, who also writes and directs the piece, incorporates plenty of glitter courtesy of Mark Walter’s sumptuous sets. Also, if you’re fond of a Wagon Wheel, it’s worth noting that traditionally Kaler throws them into the audience like frisbees at the end of the show.
Peter Pan – Lyceum, Sheffield
December 7 – January 6
Shaun Williamson, Wendi Peters, Damian Williams
With Fairfield Halls postponing its opening, another year goes by without an Evolution Productions panto within the M25. The company, run by Paul Hendy and Emily Wood, delivers big productions with a focus on superior scripts and strong casting. The company has won Pantomime of the Year at the Great British Pantomime Awards for two years in a row and this season in Sheffield they have a cast which includes Shaun Williamson, Wendi Peters and Gemma Hunt. As usual Damian Williams will provide much of the comedy as one of the burliest of British dames.
Dick Whittington: The Puuurfect Rock’n’Roll Panto – Theatr Clywd, Mold
November 23 – January 19
The timeless story of Dick Whittington has a distinctly modern twist in this production by Welsh actor and author Christian Patterson. A long term associate of Theatr Clywd, Patterson’s production is directed by Zoe Watermann and features lots of disco frocks, slapstick and plenty of puppet action. It’s an actor/muso production, which has become a hugely popular tradition in Mold featuring a rock’n’roll score of popular tunes and Phylip Harries as the most musical of dames. In the meantime Patterson himself will be strutting his stuff as the dame in Stoke-on-Trent’s Robin Hood.
Aladdin – Hackney Empire, London
November 24 – January 6
Clive Rowe, Tameka Empson
Last year’s production of Cinderella was a bit of a misfire for the Hackney Empire. Director Susie McKenna and her team had long and rightly thought of as the best panto in London, but last year the spark had gone. Hopefully this year will see a return to form as Olivier award-winning Clive Rowe is back at the venue as Widow Twankey after last year’s defection to Wimbledon. Rowe is joined by another Hackney panto alumni Tameka Empson, who is eschewing her role as Queen of Walford for Empress of Ha-Ka-Ney. Gemma Sutton stakes her claim as Aladdin, in what is hoped might be a return of the principal boy to an increasingly male-dominated genre.