It’s panto Time!

Carrie Drage continues the early countdown to Christmas with a round-up of this year’s pantomimes, Christmas and ice shows.

Eastenders' Gillian Wright will headline at Eastbourne's Devonshire Park Theatre

Eastenders' Gillian Wright will headline at Eastbourne's Devonshire Park Theatre

One of the great things about Christmas is its traditions, and there is nothing more quintessentially British than a pantomime. So get ready to boo the baddies, laugh at the antics of the pantomime dame and smile as good triumphs over evil in your choice of fairytale. If pantomime does not appeal, why not check out one of the many other Christmas productions, ice shows and ballets that are set to cast a festive spell over audiences this winter.

You shall go to the ball

The classic fairytale Cinderella is a pantomime favourite that has been enchanting audiences for decades. Bullied and mistreated by her wicked stepsisters, Cinderella’s life is changed forever when she meets her fairy godmother.

CBeebies’ Chris Jarvis will play Buttons, Cinderella’s one true friend, in his fifth year in panto at the Bournemouth Pavilion theatre. Also forming part of the cast will be ex-Coronation Street star Amanda Barrie as The Fairy Godmother, CITV’s Fingertips presenter Tim Dixon as Prince Charming and local radio presenter David Perry of Heart FM as Dandini. Groups of 10 plus receive a discount on performances.

Further along the coast, new music by Chris Hatt and choreography by Damien Delaney, who both worked on the West End show Billy Elliot, will bring the fairytale to life at the Theatre Royal Brighton. Look out for Cinderella’s carriage, which will be drawn by real Shetland ponies. Group rates start at 10 or more people.

At Eastbourne’s Devonshire Park Theatre, Gillian Wright, best known as Eastenders’ Jean Slater, will make sure Cinderella (played by Avenue Q’s Rachel Jerram) goes to the ball as The Fairy Godmother in their interpretation of the tale. Clare Buckfield as Dandini and Eastbourne’s favourite pantomime dame, Martyn Knight, will also help to make up the cast. Groups of 10 or more are eligible for discounts.

Not far from here, the youngest of the Osmond dynasty, Jimmy Osmond, will lead the cast of Cinderella at Hastings’ White Rock Theatre. He will play the part of Buttons in this much-loved rags to riches tale. Group rates apply.

Chris Jarvis will play Buttons at the Bournemouth Pavilion

Chris Jarvis will play Buttons at the Bournemouth Pavilion

Also promising real Shetland ponies in its production of Cinderella is the Assembly Hall Theatre in Tunbridge Wells. The cast includes Hi-5 presenter Emma Nowell as Cinders and Sean Williamson, best remembered for his portrayal of Barry Evans in Eastenders, as Buttons. Groups of 15 or more qualify for discounts and there is an early bird saving for bookings before 30th September.

London-based groups, meanwhile, should get themselves down to the Greenwich Theatre to see Cinderella. The production reunites the team behind last year’s hit Mother Goose, including writer and pantomime dame, Andrew Pollard. Group rates start at eight or more people.

In Buckinghamshire, Aylesbury’s new state of the art Waterside Theatre is expected to open in October, just in time for the Christmas pantomime. Cilla Black will be a special guest star in the role of the Fairy Godmother – a part she will share with another guest star to be announced shortly. Cilla will also be joined on stage by Gary Lucy (of ITV’s The Bill) as Prince Charming and funnyman Andy Collins as the lovable Buttons. Group rates are available.

Moving to Cardiff, the New Theatre will see comedian Brian Conley lead the cast as Buttons in this fairytale adventure featuring transforming pumpkins, glass slippers and a fairy godmother. Early bird savings are available for groups that book to see Cinderella before 4th October.

I dream of genie

Where will you come upon a magic lamp, summon a genie, meet a beautiful princess and an evil sorcerer all in one evening? At the pantomime Aladdin, of course.

At the Queen’s Theatre, Barnstaple, the stars from last year’s pantomime cast will be re-united for its production of Aladdin this Christmas. With Mark Reeves as Wishee Washee, Antony Stuart-Hicks as Widow Twankey, David Phipps-Davis as Abanazar and escapologist Merlin Cadogen (of ITV1’s Britain’s Got Talent fame) as PC Pong, audiences can expect lots of comic mayhem. Tickets are discounted for groups of 10 or more.

Chris Harris will play the dame once again at the Theatre Royal Bath

Chris Harris will play the dame once again at the Theatre Royal Bath

Meanwhile, at the Theatre Royal Bath, Chris Harris’ performance as Widow Twankey will mark his 10th consecutive year as dame in the city’s pantomime. He will come together with ex-Eastenders star Ricky Groves as the wicked Abanazar, children’s television presenter Gemma Hunt as Aladdin and Bath’s own Jon Monie as Wishee Washee for their re-telling of this mystical tale. Groups of 20 and above receive a 20% discount on ticket prices; an additional discount is available to groups that book and pay before 30th October.

Moving eastwards, former model and broadcaster Melinda Messenger will be in the spotlight as the genie at the Churchill Theatre Bromley’s production of Aladdin this winter. Groups of 10 plus are eligible for savings.

At the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds, playwright Mike Kenny will join forces with director Gail McIntyre and designer Barney George – the team behind last year’s pantomime, Cinderella – to transport audiences to ancient Chinatown. Kenny’s recent work includes The Railway Children, currently playing at Waterloo Station. Groups of 10 or more receive a discount on Aladdin.

After her successful pantomime debut as the Genie of the Lamp at New Wimbledon Theatre last Christmas, ex-Baywatch star Pamela Anderson will be returning to the UK this winter to play the same role at the Liverpool Empire. Les Dennis will star alongside her as Wishee Washee. Group rates apply.

In neighbouring Lancashire, Alex Ferns has joined the cast of Blackpool’s Grand Theatre pantomime, Aladdin, as baddie Abanazar. He will be familiar to many as the winner of ITV1’s Marco’s Kitchen Burnout with fiery chef, Marco Pierre White. Group discounts are available.

Breaking the ice

One of the Ugly Sisters from last year's pantomime- Cinderella - at the New Victoria Theatre in Woking

One of the Ugly Sisters from last year's pantomime- Cinderella - at the New Victoria Theatre in Woking

Find out who really is the fairest of them in all in the traditional pantomime about the beautiful Snow White who meets her prince with the help of her seven little friends.
At the New Victoria Theatre Woking, Gareth Gates will be playing the dashing prince that falls for Snow White in their interpretation of the Brothers Grimm fairytale. Cliff Parisi, best known as Eastenders’ Minty, will also be making an appearance as the put upon henchman under the command of Claire Sweeney as the Wicked Queen. Group rates apply.

Staying in the county, the Richmond Theatre will be welcoming Jane Asher as the Wicked Queen in this year’s production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. In her pantomime debut, she will share the limelight with ITV1 Britannia High’s Sapphire Elia as the title character and pantomime regular, comedian Tim Vine, as Muddles. Group rates are available on performances.

Further north in Lowestoft, the Marina Theatre’s headline star is Stefan Booth, who was last seen skating his way into the final of ITV1’s Dancing on Ice. He will play the dashing prince opposite former Hi De Hi yellow coat Nikki Kelly as the Wicked Queen, and Mike ‘Squeaky’ McLean as Snow?White’s best friend, Muddles. Parties of 20 or more receive one free ticket in every 10 booked.

Up in Manchester, ex-Coronation Street star, Tina O’Brien, will return to the Opera House after a three-year absence to take the title role in their production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Making his pantomime debut alongside her will be Andy Devine, better known as Shadrack Dingle in Emmerdale, who will play the part of the Queen’s henchman. Groups of 10 plus qualify for discounts.

Over in Wales, Hollyoaks heartthrob Kevin Sacre (better known as Jake Dean in the teen soap) is preparing to play the hunky prince at Swansea Grand Theatre. Also look out for Melanie Walters (Gwen West in Gavin and Stacey) who will be turned into a Wicked Queen, and I’d Do Anything Nancy hopeful Sarah Lark in the title role. Ten or more people qualify for a discount.

Meanwhile, at the King’s Theatre in Glasgow, this Christmas will be the first time audiences will be able to see the pantomime Snow White in the venue’s 100 year history. Returning to his home city to take on the role of Prince Charming will be ITV1’s Popstar to Operastar winner, Darius. Group rates apply.

Last year's production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at Richmond Theatre

Last year's production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at Richmond Theatre

Hooked on pantomime

Another story that never grows old is Peter Pan, the swashbuckling pirate adventure starring Captain Hook, a ticking crocodile and ‘the boy who never grew up’.
Debra Stephenson, who rose to fame in ITV1’s Bad Girls, will play Peter Pan in the Lighthouse, Poole’s Centre for the Arts’ take on J M Barrie’s classic fairytale. Other additions to the cast include Gary Turner, who played Carlos in Emmerdale, as Captain Hook and comedy acrobats, The Dingbats, who will play the ship’s crew.
Familiar to audiences of Sky One’s Pineapple Dance Studios, Louie Spence will be appearing as one of Captain Hook’s dastardly cabin boys at the New Wimbledon Theatre’s production of Peter Pan this Christmas. Group rates are available for 10 or more people.

Meanwhile, at the Wyvern Theatre in Swindon, Paul Nicholas (Vince in BBC1’s Just Good Friends) will head the cast as Captain Hook opposite Richard Vincent who will be flying in as Peter Pan after starring in the touring production of High School Musical. Groups of 10 plus receive benefits such as discounted tickets, free show programmes, free interval drinks and entry into a prize draw.

Another star of ITV1’s Bad Girls will be taking the role of the devious Captain Hook at the Mansfield Palace Theatre, in Nottinghamshire, this winter. Jack Ellis is best remembered for his part as nasty prison officer, Fenner. Every 11th ticket is free.

The kiss of life

Perhaps your group would prefer to see the pantomime Sleeping Beauty, the fairytale about a cursed princess who pricks her finger on a spindle and is sent into a deep sleep for 100 years, only to be woken by a kiss from her one true love.

In the west country, the Theatre Royal Plymouth has announced that funnyman Joe Pasquale will be heading to the city to star as Muddles in the pantomime. Group rates start at 10 or more people.

Never before performed at the venue, The Anvil’s production of Sleeping Beauty, in Basingstoke, promises special effects and computer generated animation. Wendy Craig will be the Good Fairy, appearing alongside Abi Titmuss as the Wicked Fairy and Andrew Agnew, better known as PC Plum in CBeebies’ Balamory, as Silly Billy. A group booking discount is available.

More famous names are on the bill at Malvern’s Festival Theatre, in Worcestershire, where Toyah Wilcox is preparing to star as the Bad Fairy and children’s television presenter, Derek Moran, as Silly Billy. Groups of 10 and over get a 10% discount.

Up in Scotland, Elaine C Smith (recognisable from Rab C Nesbitt as the long-suffering Mary Doll) will perform the role of the wicked fairy, Carabosse, at His Majesty’s Theatre in Aberdeen. Elaine starred in the city’s biggest-selling pantomime last year and she will return to the stage with two more favourites from last Christmas – Alan McHugh as The Nurse and Jordan Young as Muddles. Groups of eight or more are eligible for a discount; one free ticket is offered for every 15 purchased.

Top cat

Barbara Windsor is preparing to play Fairy Bowbells at The Bristol Hippodrome

Barbara Windsor is preparing to play Fairy Bowbells at The Bristol Hippodrome

Why not join Dick Whittington and his trusted feline companion on their quest for fame and fortune, and find out for yourself if the streets really are paved with gold.
National treasure Barbara Windsor will be appearing as Fairy Bowbells in Dick Whittington at The Bristol Hippodrome this Christmas, making it her first appearance in pantomime since 1995. Joining her on stage will be star of last year’s show, Andy Ford, as Idle Jack and Eric Potts as Sarah the Cook, best known for his role as Diggory Compton in Coronation Street. Groups of 10 plus receive a discount.

At the Milton Keynes Theatre, former 90210 hearthrob Luke Perry is gearing himself up to get booed off stage as the dastardly King Rat – the panto villain you love to hate – in their production of Dick Whittington. Playing Dick’s beautiful love interest will be Joanna Page who plays the title character in Gavin and Stacey, whilst father and son duo Stavros Flatley, from ITV1’s Britain’s Got Talent, will also make a special guest appearance. Discounts are offered for groups of 20 and above.

Making her pantomime debut at the Birmingham Hippodrome’s production of Dick Whittington will be Joan Collins. She will appear as Queen Rat alongside Nigel Havers’ King Rat, comedian Julian Clary as The Spirit of the Bells and Keith Harris’ portrayal of The Rat Catcher. Savings can be made for groups of 10 or more.

One giant step

Alternatively, why not follow the adventures of Jack who sells the family cow for magic beans in this familiar pantomime featuring a giant beanstalk.
At The Orchard theatre in Dartford, comedy legend Bobby Davro will headline their production of Jack and the Beanstalk as Silly Billy. Davro recently took part in ITV1’s Dancing on Ice and is also well-known for his role as Vinnie Monk in Eastenders. Group rates start at bookings of 10 or more.

Adding a double dose of magic to The Harlequin’s production of Jack and the Beanstalk, in Redhill, Surrey, will be magician Paul Daniels and his wife Debbie McGee. Playing the loveable King Crumble and Fairy Organic, they will together conquer the evil giant to bring the pantomime to a happy ending. Groups of 20 or more qualify for discounts.

The panto dame from The Harelequin

The panto dame from The Harelequin

Seasonal theatre

As well as the traditional pantomime, the UK’s theatres offer a number of other seasonal shows for your group to enjoy.
Touring more than a dozen venues this Christmas with a festive version of the hit show, The Rat Pack Live from Las Vegas, is Christmas with the Rat Pack. Take a trip back in time to the Las Vegas of the late 1950s and early 60s when Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr and Dean Martin would perform together at the famous Sands hotel with this seasonal tribute show. Audiences can expect hits such as ‘White Christmas’, ‘Winter Wonderland’ and ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’. Theatres visited on the tour include Southampton’s Mayflower theatre, the Cambridge Corn Exchange and Sheffield’s City Hall. Group rates are dependent on the venue.

The world premiere of a new musical adaptation of the classic adventure story, Swallows and Amazons, will mark the final show in the historic Bristol Old Vic before its long-awaited refurbishment in the New Year. The creative team includes War Horse director Tom Morris with movement from Toby Sedgewick (who has worked on War Horse and Nanny McPhee) and music by The Divine Comedy’s frontman Neil Hannon. Groups of 10 plus receive a discounted rate; GTOs get in free with a booking of 20 or more.

Meanwhile, Christmas at the New Theatre Royal in Portsmouth brings the premiere of a new musical adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic tale, Treasure Island. The musical was penned by playwright Louise Page, writer for 10 years on the BBC Radio 4 soap, The Archers. Groups are eligible for discounts.

At Kingston’s Rose Theatre, a new musical version of Alexandre Dumas’ classic novel, The Three Musketeers, will be entertaining audiences this Christmas. Created in collaboration with Broadway producer Bud Martin, the musical will feature an original score by George Stiles whose credits include the musical Mary Poppins. Group rates begin at 10 or more people.

Back by popular demand, Raymond Gubbay will return to The O2, in London, for a second Christmas Spectacular this festive season. Anthony Inglis will conduct the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in an evening of carols, traditional tunes and Christmas number ones, with support from the likes of Rhydian Roberts, Ruthie Henshall and the Royal Choral Society. Group rates are available.

Also in the capital, The Criterion Theatre has announced a limited season for Peppa Pig’s Party, which will take a break from its extensive UK tour. The stage show, where the main characters are played by puppets with visible puppeteers, promises train rides, cake baking and games for everyone to take part in.

Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella will be revived for its Christmas season at Sadler’s Wells. To commemorate the 70th anniversary of the London Blitz, the production has been re-imagined and will take audiences on a journey through London during World War II. Watch how a chance meeting between Cinderella and a dashing young RAF pilot leads to them falling in love before being cruelly parted by the horrors of the Blitz. Groups of eight or more receive a 20% discount.

A new interpretation od Matthew Bourne's Cinderella will be performed at Sadler's Wells this Christmas.

A new interpretation od Matthew Bourne's Cinderella will be performed at Sadler's Wells this Christmas.

Meanwhile, in the venue’s Lilian Baylis Studio, audiences will be able to enjoy an alternative Christmas show in the form of cabaret duo Bourgeois & Maurice. They will be premiering their latest show, Can’t Dance, mixing original songs, film projection and outrageous costumes. Similar discounts apply.

At London’s Peacock Theatre, the live version of Raymond Briggs’ children’s classic, The Snowman, returns for its 13th consecutive year. It tells the story of a young boy’s adventures when his snowman comes to life on Christmas Eve. Discounts are the same as at Sadler’s Wells.

Beauty and the Beast is another children’s classic that is regularly revived for the Christmas season. This year, The Theatre Chipping Norton in Oxfordshire, will be putting on its fourth production of this ‘tale as old as time’, having performed it for the first time in 1973 as their first ever pantomime. In this new version, audiences will be transported back to 18th century France, where they will encounter a giant French poodle called Chipie. Every 16th ticket is free.

Moving to Stoke-on-Trent, the Regent Theatre has chosen local lad Jonathan Wilkes to front its Christmas production – Robinson Crusoe and the Caribbean Pirates – for the sixth year running. Wilkes will star alongside Jennifer Ellison as his on-stage love interest, Polly. Group rates apply.

At The Lowry in Salford, the Manchester Library Theatre Company will be presenting David Holman’s take on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol this festive season. The tale of Ebenezer Scrooge, the world’s most notorious miser, will be directed by Rachel O’Riordan who directed last year’s Christmas production, Grimm Tales. Groups receive one free ticket for every 10 purchased.

Following the success of The Corstorphine Road Nativity last year, the Edinburgh Festival Theatre will debut its second in-house Christmas production, The Secret Garden, this winter. Based on Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic children’s novel, the tale will be brought to life with music by Lucy Simon (sister of Carly Simon) and lyrics by playwright Marsha Norman. Groups of eight plus get a discount.

Lords of the dance

The Scottish Ballet's interpretation of Cinderella

The Scottish Ballet's interpretation of Cinderella

Fairytales will also be brought to life this Christmas at the ballet, with sumptuous costumes, romantic scores and a mix of classical and modern dance.
Northern audiences will be able to see the Northern Ballet Theatre’s revival of The Nutcracker this festive season, which will be touring to four theatres – Nottingham Theatre Royal, Norwich Theatre Royal, Sheffield Lyceum Theatre and Manchester Palace Theatre – before ending its run in its home city at the Leeds Grand Theatre. Discounts are available at all venues.

Meanwhile, a reworking of the fairytale Cinderella will be performed at five venues across Scotland and Northern Ireland, including Glasgow’s Theatre Royal, Inverness’ Eden Court Theatre and Belfast’s Grand Opera House, as part of the Scottish Ballet’s repertoire. Cinderella is set to Prokofiev’s memorable score, which will be performed live by the Scottish Ballet Orchestra. Group rates are available across the board.

A new production of The Nutcracker by artistic director Wayne Eagling will be on the bill at the London Coliseum this Christmas in celebration of the English National Ballet’s 60th birthday. It will be the Ballet’s 10th production of this festive favourite since it was first performed at London’s Stoll Theatre (now the Peacock Theatre) in 1950. Rudolf Nureyev’s production of Romeo and Juliet, created for the English National Ballet to celebrate the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977, will also be performed this winter. Groups of 10 or more qualify for discounts.

Nearby, at the Royal Opera House, the Royal Ballet will be performing Frederick Ashton’s Cinderella, set to Prokofiev’s score, this festive season. There will also be the chance to see Peter and the Wolf, which will be paired with alternating performances of Les Patineurs and Tales of Beatrix Potter. Peter and the Wolf is known for its simple staging and dramatic lighting, designed to showcase Matthew Hart’s choreography as Peter captures the big bad wolf. Les Patineurs, on the other hand, is one of Frederick Ashton’s earliest ballets and was first performed at Sadler’s Wells in 1937. It is described as evoking an Edwardian skating party. For those that book to see Tales of Beatrix Potter, you can look forward to characters like Mrs Tiggywinkle, Squirrel Nutkin and Jeremy Fisher coming to life in captivating woodland scenes. Savings start at groups of 10 or more.

Cinderella by the Royal Ballet

Cinderella by the Royal Ballet

In Birmingham, meanwhile, a new version of the classic fairytale, Cinderella, has been created for the Birmingham Royal Ballet’s 20th anniversary year. Choreographed by the Ballet’s director, David Bintley, this new production receives its world premiere at the Birmingham Hippodrome this Christmas. Groups of 10 plus can make savings.

Breaking the ice

Ice shows are also popular with audiences of all ages at Christmas with their blend of ice dancing and acrobatics.
The stage at the Regent Theatre in Stoke-on-Trent will be transformed into a winter wonderland when the Russian Ice Stars arrive to perform Snow White on Ice this Christmas. Working in collaboration with Caverliere Giuseppe Arena, a former principal dancer at La Scala Milan Ballet Company, the Brothers Grimm fairytale has been re-interpreted and set to a specially-commissioned score by Italian composer Maestro Silvio Amato. The Russian Ice Stars will also be performing Peter Pan on Ice at 14 venues between November and June 2011, including a stint at the Regent Theatre, in Ipswich, over Christmas. Group incentives vary between venues.

Meanwhile, 65 of Disney’s best-loved characters from 18 unforgettable stories will be brought to life as Disney On Ice celebrates 100 Years of Magic. Choreographed by Emmy Award-winning Sarah Kawahara, who put together the skating segment for the opening ceremonies of the 2002 Winter Olympics, the show also features a singalong score of Disney music, elaborate sets and beautiful costumes. Disney On Ice will visit six arenas between September and November, including The NIA in Birmingham, Trent FM Arena in Nottingham and Metro Radio Arena in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Group discounts apply and one free ticket is offered for every 15 purchased.

Visiting six venues, including the Brighton Centre, LG Arena Birmingham and the Cardiff International Arena, with their new show, Energia, will be Holiday on Ice. Over 40 world-class skaters will take audiences through the story of the universe, from an exploding supernova to the creation of mankind. Groups receive one free ticket for every 10 bought; an early bird discount is offered for bookings before 15th September. For more information on the show, please visit www.holidayonice.co.uk