Just the ticket

Carrie Drage provides a preview of this year’s seasonal theatre, with a round up of pantomimes, Christmas and ice shows.

Keith Harris, Orville and Cuddles will be guest starring in the production of Cinderella at the Theatre Royal Plymouth.

Keith Harris, Orville and Cuddles will be guest starring in the production of Cinderella at the Theatre Royal Plymouth.

With dazzling dance routines, sensational songs, slapstick comedy and plenty of audience participation, there is nothing more quintessentially British than a pantomime, and this year’s selection doesn’t disappoint, with most offering a modern take on some of the greatest fairytales of all time.
Pantomime isn’t for everyone though so also read on to reveal our pick of some of the UK’s best Christmas productions, ice shows and ballets that will be mesmerising theatre-goers this yuletide. Most theatres offer incentives for groups, from discounted rates to free tickets, so be sure to enquire when booking.

It’s panto time (oh yes it is!)

With their combination of romance, comedy and adventure, pantomimes manage to captivate audiences of all ages.
Heading the line-up for the Theatre Royal Plymouth’s production of Cinderella will be comedian Julian Clary, who will play Prince Charming’s right hand man, Dandini. He will perform opposite Keith Harris as Buttons, with Orville and Cuddles also guest starring.
At the Bristol Hippodrome, groups can discover the magic of Neverland, where global megastar, David Hasselhoff, will reprise the role of Captain Hook following his pantomime debut in Peter Pan at the New Wimbledon Theatre last Christmas.
Meanwhile, on the south coast, groups can follow the tale of the boy who sells the family cow for a handful of magic beans at Bournemouth Pavilion, where ex-Coronation Street star, Deborah Stevenson, will play the young Jack Trott in Jack and the Beanstalk. CBeebies presenter, Chris Jarvis, will also make an appearance as Jack’s less than bright brother, Silly Billy, with Kate Weston from Wave 105FM treading the boards as the Good Fairy and Nick Wilton (better known as Mr Lister from Eastenders) becoming his longsuffering mother, Dame Trott.

Basil Brush will take on the role of Chief Inspector Basil at the Royal & Derngate.

Basil Brush will take on the role of Chief Inspector Basil at the Royal & Derngate.

At the New Victoria Theatre, Eastenders villain, Steve McFadden, will return to Woking to play the dastardly Captain Hook in their brand new production of Peter Pan. Joining him on stage will be comedian Andy Collins as Smee, with The Only Way is Essex’s Harry Derbidge adding a bit of glam to Captain Hook’s pirate crew.
Moving to the Churchill Theatre in Bromley, children’s TV favourite Barney Harwood will be appearing as Muddles in this year’s festive adventure, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, complete with seven real dwarves.
A similar production of Snow White will be on the programme at The Orchard theatre in Dartford, where audiences will have more opportunities to hiss and boo Strictly Come Dancing’s ‘Mr Nasty’ as Craig Revel Horwood prepares to play the Wicked Queen. He will also be reunited with former Strictly contestant, Ann Widdecombe, who makes her pantomime debut as Widdy in Waiting to Craig’s Wicked Queen.
In Surrey, Grumpy Old Woman, Jenny Eclair, will take centre stage as the Fairy Godmother in Richmond Theatre’s production of Cinderella. Starring alongside her will be pantomime stalwart Gary Wilmot as Buttons.
Moving to London, Dame Edna Everage will be making her much anticipated pantomime debut in the New Wimbledon Theatre’s production of Dick Whittington as the Spirit of London. Dancing on Ice champion Sam Attwater and television presenter Anna Williamson will also take centre stage as Dick and Alice Fitzwarren, while Eric Potts (better known as Diggory Compton in Coronation Street) will feature as the hilarious panto dame, Sarah the Cook. This year’s production will also contain ground-breaking 3D effects courtesy of Terry the Turtle, who will whisk theatre-goers away on a magical underwater adventure as Dick Whittington sails the seas.
Aylesbury’s streets will also be paved with gold this Christmas, with musician Jonathan Wilkes leading the cast of Dick Whittington at the Waterside Theatre as the loveable hero, Dick, alongside Eastenders star Gillian Wright as Fairy Bow Bells.

Joe Pasquale will be appearing as Muddles at Nottingham Theatre Royal.

Joe Pasquale will be appearing as Muddles at Nottingham Theatre Royal.

Not far away, in Northampton, comedian Bobby Davro will be taking on the role of Wishee Washee at the Royal & Derngate, starring alongside Basil Brush as Chief Inspector Basil – Boom, Boom! in their re-telling of the Arabian folk tale, Aladdin. Brian Fortuna of Strictly Come Dancing will also be making his panto debut as the impoverished Aladdin.
Moving to the West Midlands, Lynda Bellingham will be making Cinderella’s wishes come true as the Fairy Godmother in the Birmingham Hippodrome’s production of this much-loved fairytale. She will be joined on stage by comedian Brian Conley, who returns to the city for his fifth pantomime in the role of Buttons. Also look out for a special animatronic flying pegasus!
Promising brand new 3D effects and some of the most outrageous costumes of any pantomime dame is Nottingham Theatre Royal’s production of Cinderella. Comedian Joe Pasquale is a seasoned pantomime performer and will give his usual high-energy routine as Muddles.
A little further north, in Stoke-on-Trent, TV star Joe Swash has been named as the new leading man for Aladdin, playing at the Regent Theatre. He will star as the hilarious Wishee Washee alongside Tara Wells as the beautiful princess.
Presenting a new version of Sleeping Beauty this Christmas is Norwich Theatre Royal, where former Hollyoaks heart throb, Kevin Sacre, will take on the role of the Prince opposite Evil Queen, Helen Fraser, who is best known as the grumpy prison warden, Sylvia Hollamby, in Bad Girls. Two more panto favourites are also heading back to this year’s show. Richard Gauntlett will be writing, directing and starring as the panto dame, Nurse Pickle, aided once more by comedy sidekick Andre Vincent as Muddles, with comedian Tom Beard completing the line-up as the queen’s henchman.

Helen Fraser and Tom Beard will star in Sleeping Beauty at the Norwich Theatre Royal.

Helen Fraser and Tom Beard will star in Sleeping Beauty at the Norwich Theatre Royal.

Meanwhile, Cinderella is the pantomime of choice for the Opera House in Manchester, where Louie Spence, star of Sky TV’s Pineapple Dance Studios, will play Prince Charming’s aide-de-camp, Dandini, opposite singer and soap star Suzanne Shaw. The production also promises real shetland ponies!
Another soap star favourite will be topping the bill at Blackpool’s Grand Theatre this Christmas as former Coronation Street actor Vicky Entwistle (better known as Janice Battersby) joins the cast for this year’s family pantomime, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. She will play Snow White’s evil stepmother, the Wicked Queen, opposite Steve Royle from BBC Radio Lancashire as Muddles.
Further north, at the Darlington Civic Theatre, Dancing on Ice star Ray Quinn will be stepping into the role of Prince Charming for their take on Cinderella, featuring beautiful ponies to transport Cinders and her coach to the ball. Emmerdale’s Deena Payne will also star as the Fairy Godmother together with comic Jimmy Cricket as Baron Hardup.
Up in Scotland, comedienne Karen Dunbar and Keith Jack (runner up in BBC1’s Any Dream Will Do) will be reuniting once again for the King’s Theatre production of Sleeping Beauty in Glasgow. The pair last performed together in Aladdin back in 2009.This year, Dunbar will play Nanny with Jack as the handsome prince.
Also in Scotland, comedienne Elaine C Smith will return to Aberdeen’s His Majesty’s Theatre this Christmas to play the good fairy in Jack and the Beanstalk. For the third year in succession, she will star alongside local panto stalwarts Alan McHugh as the dame and Jordan Young as his sidekick.

Seasonal spectacle

Pantomime isn’t the only theatre scheduled this yuletide. Audiences will also be able to enjoy a variety of other Christmas shows designed to get you in the festive mood.

Clowning around in Slava’s Snowshow.

Clowning around in Slava’s Snowshow.

Returning to the UK for the first time in three years, Slava’s Snowshow will be touring Britain’s theatres for 11 weeks this festive season, playing at The Lowry in Manchester, the Birmingham Hippodrome and London’s Royal Festival Hall among other venues.
Performed by a highly renowned company of clowns led by Slava Polunin, the show creates a dreamlike world where one extraordinary image melts into another, culminating in a stunning finale that leaves the audience literally knee-deep in snow.
Groups can also enjoy a series of concerts within the magnificent surroundings of London’s Royal Albert Hall and Cadogan Hall as John Rutter’s Christmas Celebration and Christmas Cracker both return for another year.
Audiences can expect the usual mix of Christmas songs, festive orchestral pieces and sing-along carols.
Meanwhile, coming to London’s West End this Christmas is Swallows and Amazons, presented by the National Theatre and The Children’s Touring Partnership.
Based on the famous children’s book by Arthur Ransome about the adventures of Captain John and his crew on Wildcat Island, it will play at the Vaudeville Theatre for a limited five-week run. A regional tour will follow, with dates announced in September.

The Wind in the Willows will be the Christmas tale at The Lowry.

The Wind in the Willows will be the Christmas tale at The Lowry.

Also back by popular demand, La Soiree will be entertaining audiences at the Roundhouse in Camden this Christmas, with its fusion of cabaret, new burlesque, circus sideshow and contemporary vaudeville.
Moving to Manchester, the tales of Ratty, Mole, Badger and Toad will be enchanting audiences at The Lowry in Alan Bennett’s version of The Wind in the Willows. Written with distinctive Bennett flair and humour, the production is woven with witty dialogue and clever songs.
Meanwhile, at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds, Nikolai Foster will direct a brand new production of Annie, which reunites the team behind last year’s A Christmas Carol. Set in the midst of America’s Great Depression of the 1930s, it contains classic songs like It’s A Hard Knock Life, Tomorrow, Little Girls and Fully Dressed. Also at the venue, the creative team of Mike Kenny, Gail McIntyre and Barney George will be collaborating once more on a brand new production for younger audiences. Jack and the Beanstalk will present a new take on the classic fairytale and centres around some music-loving chickens whose harp-playing owner is taken by a giant to live in the clouds, so they decide to hatch a plan to get her back.

The West Yorkshire Playhouse will be staging Annie

The West Yorkshire Playhouse will be staging Annie

To the point

Another popular Christmas tradition is an evening at the ballet, where fairytales are brought to life through classical and modern dance.
The Scottish Ballet will be bringing audiences under its spell this Christmas with a re-telling of the treasured fairytale, The Sleeping Beauty. This brand new production promises spectacular choreography, lavish sets and costumes, and Tchaikovsky’s magnificent score, performed live by the Scottish Ballet Orchestra.
The Sleeping Beauty will tour five venues across Scotland and the north east including Glasgow’s Theatre Royal and the Theatre Royal in Newcastle.
Meanwhile, groups heading to the Royal Opera House this Christmas will be able to catch performances of The Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker by the Royal Ballet, both featuring intoxicating scores by Tchaikovsky.
Also presenting The Nutcracker this festive season will be the Birmingham Royal Ballet, who will be performing Sir Peter Wright’s world famous production at the Birmingham Hippodrome. The Company will also be performing David Bintley’s interpretation of the famous gothic fairytale, Beauty and the Beast, at The Lowry in Manchester, told through the unfolding pages of Philip Prowse’s storybook sets of forests and castles.

Christmas ice-capades

With extravagant costumes, thrilling acrobatics, high-speed skating, dazzling special effects and non-stop music, ice shows make a good alternative to seasonal theatre.

Peter Pan on Ice, performed by the Russian Ice Stars, will be touring the UK.

Peter Pan on Ice, performed by the Russian Ice Stars, will be touring the UK.

The world renowned Russian Ice Stars will be touring the UK with two shows this winter. Peter Pan on Ice is based around J.M. Barrie’s magical tale of the boy who never grew up and contains unusual touches like penny farthings being ridden across the ice. Their second offering, Cinderella on Ice, is an interpretation of the enchanting fairytale and combines extraordinary skating skills with breathtaking aerial feats. Venues visited on the tour include Oxford New Theatre, Malvern Festival Theatre and Leicester’s De Montfort Hall, although further venues are still to be confirmed.
Also this winter, rev up for nonstop fun with four of your favourite Disney stories as Disney On Ice presents Worlds of Fantasy. Thrill to high-speed stunts as Lightning McQueen, Mater and the crew of Disney/Pixar’s CARS race across the ice. Dive into The Little Mermaid’s enchanting undersea kingdom and enter the mystical world of Pixie Hollow with Tinker Bell and the Disney Fairies as they reveal the magic that lies within!
Also, the toys are back in town with heroic action when Buzz Lightyear, Woody, Jessie and the Toy Story gang escape from the unruly tots of Sunnyside Daycare, in their most daring adventure ever! Opening at Newcastle’s Metro Radio Arena, the tour will also visit London’s O2 Arena, Wembley Arena, Birmingham’s NIA, Sheffield’s Motorpoint Arena and Nottingham’s Capital FM Arena.
Lastly, in the north of England, Beauty and the Beast: A Christmas Gift on Ice is set to be the biggest show ever performed at Blackpool Pleasure Beach and will bring together a a cast of over 80 young skaters. Taking place at the Ice Arena, all profits from the show will be donated to local children’s charities.