Fairytales & fun: panto

Round & About

Your local theatres have a stockingful of pantomimes to delight family audiences. Liz Nicholls rounds up some star-studded highlights to enjoy at a theatre near you this winter…

Pantomime elicits some very strong feelings. But, love it or loathe it, the art form – a beanstalk-like offshoot of the 16th century commedia dell’arte tradition – often represents youngsters’ first 
taste of theatre. And, here we are at the end of 2018, with theatres and stars near you preparing to give the year the happy ending this year needs.

Speaking of beanstalks, Jack & The Beanstalk is the choice of pantomime at Newbury’s Corn Exchange – you could say a rather apt place considering its original use… Playing the comedy role of Billy Bumpkin, a favourite of Newbury and the panto there, Matthew Grace says: “I’m so excited to be back at the Corn Exchange for what will be my eighth pantomime. Jack & The Beanstalk is packed with hilarious jokes, brilliant songs and amazing dance routines – I dare anyone in the audience to find something they won’t absolutely love”. The pantomime runs until 6th January. Book at www.cornexchangenew.com

A trip, eastwards down the M4 to Reading and The Hexagon takes us on a magic carpet ride to the mystical east with Aladdin. Reading panto legends Paul Morse and CBBC’s Justin Fletcher are joined by David J Higgins as the dastardly Abanazar and Sophie Ayers as The Princess. Read our interview with Justin this month. Aladdin runs from 8th December to 6th January; www.readingarts.com

Whilst at Bracknell Ice Rink, Aladdin forsakes the carpet for ice skates. This is a real community event, performed entirely by a cast of talented young skaters drawn from Bracknell Ice Skating Club who will recreate all the magic of the East with flying jumps, dizzying spins and energetic dance routines. With colourful costumes and the creative choreography of show co-ordinator Jacqui Adams, this will be a visual extravaganza for all ages. The cast includes British Champion ice dancer Adam Bouaziz as Prince Nike and, as Wishee Washee, international gold medallist Max Hall, who had a skating role in Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them. The festival runs 12th-16th December and will raise funds for Sebastian’s Action Trust. Visit www.jnlbracknell.co.uk

Immersion Theatre are producing the pantomime at Henley’s Kenton Theatre and this year it’s Dick Whittington. Though this is only the second time for Immersion, James Tobias, who plays the cat, has had many memorable shows here, including one year, during a run of Peter Pan when he proposed to his girlfriend on stage… and they are still living happily ever after! Dick Whittington, 15th-29th December, is followed by Aladdin, produced by Henley Children’s Theatre, 31st December to 5th January. Visit www.kentontheatre.co.uk
Over at Theatre Royal Windsor Dick Whittington will celebrate 80 years of traditional pantomime fun with the help of Anne Hegerty (AKA “The Governess” from The Chase), Basil Brush, DJ Mike Read and comic Kevin Cruise, along with resident dame Steven Blakeley who will don a frock for his 10th year! Catch Dick Whittington up until Sunday, 6th January; to book call 01753 853888 or visit www.theatreroyalwindsor.co.uk

The streets will be paved with gold on the way to Bracknell’s South Hill Park as their in-house panto is Dick Whittington & His Cat, written by Joyce Branagh (sister of Sir Kenneth) sees the return of Bracknell’s favourite Dame, Brad Clapson. From 30th November to 5th January; www.southhillpark.org.uk. Meanwhile, at the Alan Cornish Theatre in Woodley’s Oakwood Centre, Berzerk Productions present a new production of The Snow Queen, 12th-16th December. Visit www.berzerkproductions.com

And Princes Hall Theatre in Aldershot invite you to be their guest with Beauty & the Beast – their “most spectacular pantomime yet” – between Friday, 7th and Monday, 31st December; call 01252 329 155 or visit www.princeshall.com.

While Basingstoke’s Anvil Arts’ pantomime this year is Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs between Thursday, 13th December and Sunday, 6th January; call 01256 844244 or visit 

Happy holidays!