From family-friendly festive frolics to innuendo-laden adult shows stuffed with saucy contemporary references, this year’s panto season has something for everyone. Paul Vale chooses the best the UK has to offer…
December 7-January 12
Qdos Entertainment is the world’s biggest pantomime producer and the jewel in its crown is the Palladium production, now in its fourth year. Expect unrivalled spectacle and astounding costumes from Hugh Durrant with stunning visual effects from the Twins FX. The traditional story is given a circus make-over by director Michael Harrison and features regular Palladium headliners Julian Clary, Paul O’Grady, Gary Wilmot and Paul Zerdin. Sophie Isaacs slips into the title role with Benidorm’s Janine Duvitski as Mummy Bear.
December 10-January 5
It’s been a couple of years but pantomime is back at the Fairfield Halls. Having closed in 2016 for a multimillion-pound redevelopment, the venue has since reopened with an eclectic first season in the 800-seat Ashcroft Theatre, which is where the pantomimes have always taken place. This year however, the story of Cinderella will unfold in the 1,800-seat Phoenix Concert Hall. Designed and produced by Coventry-based Imagine Theatre, Cinderella stars Ore Oduba, Tim Vine and Cat Sandion and features Grace Chapman as Cinderella.
December 7-January 25
Last year, the world’s longest-serving panto dame Berwick Kaler retired after 40 years at the Theatre Royal. Kaler is not disappearing – he has written this year’s production of Sleeping Beauty and co-directs with Matt Aston. Punters shouldn’t be too concerned about an unfamiliar line-up as regulars David Leonard, Martin Barrass and Suzy Cooper are all returning for this production. There isn’t really a dame in Sleeping Beauty, so hopefully this will be a gentle change for York residents.
November 23-January 5
The East London venue has a long tradition of pantomime and regular dame Clive Rowe was nominated for an Olivier for his performance of Mother Goose there in 2008. This year, Rowe will be making his 13th appearance as dame playing Sarah the Cook alongside Hamilton star Tarinn Callender as Dick Whittington. Once again, the show is written and directed by ex-Hackney Empire creative director Susie McKenna – her 21st pantomime at the venue.
December 21-February 2
This pantomime is traditionally the last in the season to open but remains a highlight of the Qdos Entertainment seasonal calendar. One reason for its popularity is the appearance of comedy entertainer Matt Slack, who regularly stops the show with his outrageous ad-libs and a knack for making the most haughty of villains corpse. It will be interesting to see how Lesley Joseph and Joe McElderry manage to cope with Slack’s unique sense of humour.
November 27-January 5
Simon Fielding’s traditional family pantomimes are not only packed with loads of local references, they also put a company of young, local performers front and centre. Everything from the choreography to the knockabout comedy routines is packed with energy. To top it all, he has Sophie Ladds playing Queen Rat. In a genre that is often accused of sidelining female performers, Ladds stands out as one of the best in the business.
November 30-January 19
Although it’s the same title as the Palladium, this Qdos Entertainment pantomime is likely to have a very different energy from its English counterpart. In the first instance, it stars Allan Stewart and Grant Stott, with Andy Gray returning to the panto stage after being diagnosed with a life-threatening illness that kept him away last year. If Gray’s return to the King’s stage isn’t cause for celebration enough, then joining him is Scots panto regular and River City co-star Jordan Young.
November 30-January 12
A good dame is the life-blood of any panto and this year the Queen of Belfast pantomime May McFettridge celebrates her 30th year. Created by Northern Irish entertainer John Linehan, plain-speaking May first appeared on a radio show. She proved so popular that Linehan moved her to the stage for the GOH pantomime, which she has dominated ever since. Joining her for Beauty and the Beast are Footballers’ Wives star Ben Richards and magician Mandy Muden.
Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a dose of irreverent fun for adults. This year, RuPaul’s Drag Race UK finally aired on BBC3. One of its standout stars is the hilarious and unpredictable Baga Chipz, who features as the Wicked Stepmother in a new production of Cinderella from drag collective TuckShop. Also starring the wonderful Sheila Simmonds as the Fairy Godmother and a cast of drag queens, this is one pantomime where the dames are guaranteed to reign supreme.
November 19-January 11
For more than 10 years, Jon Bradfield and Martin Hooper have written Above the Stag’s popular annual pantomime. They have a knack for satirising popular culture and celebrating LGBT+ life in all its glory. David Shields’ set designs are a constant source of wonder and this year Matthew Baldwin returns as dame. In a twist on the Disney favourite, Baldwin plays Geppetta, a lonely puppet maker who fashions a young man for company. Expect a blue fairy, naughty boys on Pleasure Island and plenty of jokes about wood.