Christmas crackers in Surrey & Hampshire

Karen Neville

Aladdin

December 25th is hurtling towards us faster than a child can unwrap their presents but there’s plenty to wrap yourself up in before the ‘big day’ with events to enjoy, markets to plunder, food and drink to tuck into and not forgetting Santa to visit…

Are you hanging up your stocking on the wall? Ok, perhaps a bit too soon but in the words of Noddy Holder ‘It’s Christmas’ and there’s so much to do before it’s stocking time.

Christmas wouldn’t be the same without a bit of sparkle so how about starting off the season with a stunning light trail. Follow dazzling displays around RHS Wisley’s iconic sights through Seven Acres, the Rock Garden and Wisteria Walk and marvel at trees and shrubs bathed in a rainbow of light at Glow 2023 until January 2nd. Nearby Windsor Great Park Illuminated is back for its third year with installations featuring artistic projections and floodlit fountains. Go on an adventure surrounded by mythical creatures and dancing fairies. Also until January 2nd. Glow Wild returns at Wakehurst, celebrating its 10th anniversary with a new route and fresh installations. Enchanting winter lanterns and captivating light creations illuminate the gardens. Booking essential for all light trails.

The Christmas trail at Polesden Lacey takes you through familiar fairy tales, complete with a map and book to write your adventure. Ride the traditional gallopers in front of the house and meet elves and a tricky dragon. Booking advised for Santa visit and carousel rides. Enjoy a Nutcracker Christmas at Nymans where you’ll find glittering Christmas trees, colourful decorations, scenes inspired by the classic Christmas tale and giant Nutcracker soldiers. In the house discover ‘The Land of Sweets’ while a garden trail takes families on a voyage through this magical world.

Take a magical journey in to Narnia this Christmas with a visit to Hatchlands Park. In the house, enjoy the warmth and sparkle of a 1940s Christmas before stepping through the wardrobe to discover an enchanting world. Outside, enjoy the family parkland trail inspired by CS Lewis’s beloved story, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Petworth is every colour of the rainbow with show stopping trees and decorations bringing the house and collections to life. Watch out for mice hiding among the desserts in the historic kitchens! The Makers Market runs on December 2nd and 3rd and if you’re visiting over a weekend be prepared to give your vocal chords some exercise with choirs performing in the courtyard.

Join Uppark House this festive season to discover towering Christmas trees covered with twinkling lights and traditional decorations. The mansion’s enchanting rooms are filled with scents and scenes of the season. From glittering baubles to handmade paper decorations, experience an ‘Upstairs, Downstairs’ Christmas in this Georgian home.

Father Christmas has filled his sleigh with presents, fed all the reindeer, made a list and checked it twice and is getting ready to land at West Horsley Place on selected Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays in December. The house will be decked out with festive decorations and there will be lots to see and do before and after your visit with Father Christmas including biscuit decorating and crafts. Booking essential.

Have a Gilbert White Christmas this December at Gilbert White’s House and Gardens. Starting off on December 2nd with Gilbert White’s Christmas Craft Fair, entry grants you access to the fabulous local craft fair in the barn, plus access to the beautifully decorated house and gardens for a day of traditional Christmas entertainment.

Hop aboard the Santa Express at Denbies for a ride through the vineyards with a special passport from Santa, play the Reindeer game and take home a gift at the end of your ride. Early booking advised. www.denbies.co.uk/fc-events/santa-express

Climb aboard the Rosebud boat and take a gentle cruise along the Basingstoke Canal to the start of the tinsel trail in the woods at Mytchett to find Father Christmas in his grotto and receive a gift. You’ll then cruise back to Basingstoke Canal Centre and head into Santa’s Workshop for Christmas colouring activities, warm drinks and mince pies. Cruises available until December 23rd.

Join Santa aboard the Swingbridge Tranquillity broadbeam boat this Christmas (December 2nd to 21st) for a gentle family cruise along the River Wey. The boat will depart from Millmead Island, Guildford in search of Santa. Look for clues along the towpath as you pass by to find out where he’s hiding.

The animal barn at Chobham Adventure Farm will be magically transformed into The Reindeer Lodge, where Santa’s real reindeer including Rudolph will be staying while they get ready for the big day! Meet the Elves and The Reindeer Keeper and upgrade your ticket to meet Father Christmas where you’ll wander through the snow trail before choosing a gift in his Toy Workshop. Finish the day ice skating.

What better place can there be for a spot of skating than the grounds of Henry VIII’s former home, Hampton Court Palace. Wrap up warm, get together with your friends or family and take in the magnificent views of the beautiful Tudor palace as you glide around on the outdoor ice rink, open until January 7th.

Experience the Christmas story in a unique way as you walk with Mary, Joseph and the donkey on the winding road to Bethlehem with fellow travellers, Roman soldiers and shepherds for The Wintershall Nativity. Enter the stable and watch the miracle unfold bringing the true meaning of Christmas to life for the whole family. December 16th, 17th & 18th. Book at www.wintershall.org.uk/nativity-journey-0

There’s nothing like a bit of sparkle and magic at this time of year and the Watercress Line Steam Illuminations delivers. The incredible light show on and in a steam train is made up of thousands of coloured LED lights and LED wristbands to create a kaleidoscope of different colours and flashing patterns making the steam train look magical both inside and out!

This Christmas, West Green House Gardens in Hook again present their hugely popular light spectacular with giant dancing fountains and a mile-long trail around the illuminated lake, narrating the tale of Alice in Wonderland. The Five Bridges transform into light tunnels with creatures below, and the Paradise Garden becomes the flamingo’s croquet lawn.

Join Marwell Zoo for an immersive light extravaganza that will see the majestic grounds turned into a twinkling wonderland full of fairy lights, magic, and delight with more than 250,000 LED bulbs making up their wonderful illuminations you can marvel at while you can toast marshmallows around cosy firepits.

The Glimmering Gardens return to Chawton House. Enjoy the beautiful decorations in the House and then explore the Gardens as they come to life in twinkling lights and spot the woodland creatures that call Chawton House home from December 16th to New Year’s Day.

Take a Christmas journey to the North Pole at Mottisfont until January 7th and find luxuriously decorated trees, piles of colourfully wrapped presents, extravagant floral displays created by Mother Christmas and Father Christmas’s study piled high with letters. Board the Christmas Express into the North Pole for the polar bear’s ball and become an honorary elf on the family activity trail helping to deliver Christmas wishes.

Experience a Neverland Christmas at Hinton Ampner this winter, with a sprinkle of fairy dust on the Christmas trees. Step into the home of the Darling family and Nana the dog, where light, sound and movement bring scenes inspired by JM Barrie’s much-loved story of Peter Pan to life. Outside, the adventure continues – to the Wendy House, the Mermaids’ Lagoon and Nana’s dog house, where your pooch can pose for pics. A Neverland Christmas which runs until New Year’s Day is presented in partnership with Great Ormond Street Hospital. Booking essential.

The Vyne invites you to follow Clara and the Nutcracker as they fight the evil Mouse King on indoor and outdoor trails. Look out for plucky gingerbread men, pirouetting snowflakes and a bounteous banquet in the Land of Sweets as you explore the opulently decorated ground floor of the house. Enjoy the magical tale through to January 1st.

Step into Santa’s workshop, dress as an elf and look out for the naughty elves hiding throughout Winchester City Mill. Two twinkling trees frame the door and a crafted Christmas tree has garlands full of items found and made in nature through December.

One of the best places to shop for unique gifts is Winchester Cathedral Christmas Market (until December 21st). Recognised as one of the best in Europe, the bustling lively atmosphere, stunning location and high quality products make this a ‘must visit’. Festive lighting, carols and mulled wine abound amid the wooden chalets inspired by a traditional German Christmas market – make sure to visit band shop jewellers, painters, glass makers and textile artists selling one of a kind gifts and decorations.

From traditional to out of this world at Winchester Science Centre which is celebrating a cosmic Christmas as you blast off on a live-action immersive festive space adventure before meeting Santa and taking home a gift.

From the greatest story of them all to some very silly ones with pantos across the county. Catch EastEnder Lucy Benjamin in Cinderella at the Yvonne Arnaud, Guildford; waltz across the stage with Anton du Beke in Peter Pan at Woking New Victoria; Cinderella’s also going to the ball at Camberley Theatre and board the magic carpet with Aladdin at both Theatre Royal Windsor and with Godalming Theatre Group.

Discover Santa’s Magical Gift at the Rhoda McGaw Theatre and meet the Society for Christmas Creatures at Farnham Maltings in the company of surely the only Christmas Lobster!

Justin Fletcher, aka Mr Tumble, has written a new magical family show Santa’s on his Sleigh. Santa is just about to set off on his delivery round on Christmas Eve when he finds his sleigh has broken down, can you help him fix it before it’s too late? You may just recognise Head Elf Justy in this show at G Live, December 16th to 24th, full of singing, laughter and Christmas spirit.

Ready to boo, hiss and cheer – it’s that time of year. Pantos are back and there are plenty to enjoy including those from some of the fine amateur groups who work hard to rehearse and stage stories of slapstick and silliness for your pleasure. Among these are Pumpkin Pantos whose Beauty and the Beast gets an outing at Alton Assembly Rooms (9th and 10th) followed by Forest Community Centre in Bordon the weekend after. Dick Whittington arrives to make his fortune at the Harlington, Fleet while Cinderella is looking for her lost shoe at Theatre Royal Winchester. Over at The Anvil in Basingstoke enjoy The Further Adventures of Peter Pan: The Return of Hook. Dear Santa is the perfect introduction to theatre for children at The Haymarket where you can meet Santa afterwards. At the other end of the scale, The Phoenix Theatre, Bordon are staging an adult only panto and there’s fun for younger ones with Hansel & Gretel and Red Riding Hood.

Altogether now “I’m walking in the air…”, it must be Christmas if you can hear the sounds of The Snowman. You can join him and Wallace & Gromit who are still wearing the Wrong Trousers in the company of a live orchestra at Guildford Cathedral on 16th.

Shopping to do? Gifts to buy or just treating yourself (nothing wrong with self love) then be sure to visit Ramster Gardens Christmas market the first two weekends in December. Discover a unique collection of locally made gifts including food and drink, beauty products, art and homewares. Buy premium Christmas trees and beautiful wreaths from the Ramster Tea House where you can also enjoy mince pies and mulled wine.

Haslemere’s traditional Christmas market in the town centre offers 200 stalls of gifts and refreshments, you’re sure to find something for even the most difficult recipient here on Sunday 3rd.

There’s A Celebration of Christmas at Holy Trinity Church Guildford on December 6th when you can take part in a night of fun and warmth when the air will be filled with light and music.

Guildford Cathedral is the setting for John Rutter’s Christmas Celebration with a festival of carols and Christmas music for choir, brass, organ and audience on Saturday 9th.

Christmas with a much more relaxed elegant feel is being celebrated at Jane Austen’s House where you can enjoy an evening away from the hustle and bustle (December 2nd and 9th) and step back in time for a magical few hours discovering Christmas traditions and family pastimes with the house all dressed up for the season, complete with warming drinks and the chance to raise a toast to the much-loved author. Take a special Christmas virtual guided tour on 14th and celebrate Jane’s birthday on 16th with a virtual party.

Mulled wine and hot chocolate are on offer at Whitchurch Silk Mill as you celebrate a Victorian Silk Mill Christmas on 2nd and 3rd. The rooms are decorated to recreate the mill’s past with a seasonal make over replete with a table laid with gingerbread figures and figgy pudding – stop by and make a wish.

More nostalgia awaits amid the cobbled streets, seaside pier, teddy bears and vintage vehicles at Milestones Museum in Basingstoke. The period streets will be decorated for the season and the giant Christmas tree will give a warm, festive welcome until 23rd. Children can help Father Christmas find his lost reindeer with the special Reindeer Spotter trail, while the smell of mulled wine and the taste of mince pies will transport adults into the atmosphere of a perfect Christmas! Don’t miss the chance to meet Father Christmas from December 9th to 23rd. Booking essential.

The festive season wouldn’t be the same without glorious uplifting music so let the choirs of Winchester Cathedral entertain you on December 15th with traditional favourites, exciting new pieces and much-loved audience carols to sing along with.

Here’s a different way to mark the season, join the 5k Jingle Jog and run in festive fancy dress around Frimley Green and Frimley Lodge Park to the tune of a thousand jingle bells and if that doesn’t get you in the festive spirit nothing will! Medals, Santa hats, jingle bells (more of them), a mince pie and festive drink are included as part of your entry fee and new this year is the 2k fun run route. Run in aid of Frimley Health Charity’s Golden Christmas Appeal and help give a very special gift this Christmas.

If you’re looking for somewhere to socialise with your family and friends, or to make new friends, then head to the ‘hive of activity in the local community’ – West End Social Club in West End, Woking, (GU24 9PL). Two comfortable bars, regular live music (including Tributes), dancing, many other social and indoor sporting activities, Festivals and Seasonal events. New members and guests welcome, (bookable space for members private events). www.westendsocialclub.co.uk

There’s more to Christmas than just turkey and sometimes a change is good so how about fish from Surrey Seafood Emporium, an independent family-run business recently opened in Downing Street, Farnham, offering the freshest fish caught daily in Cornwall and Devon and brought straight to Surrey. The fantastic pre marinated and ready to cook selection are perfect for both the BBQ or in their oven bags. And if fancy a break from the kitchen, the chef there is busy on a daily basis making artisan fish pies, lobster mac ‘n’ cheese, fish cakes and many more fabulous fish dishes.

Struggling for gift ideas? Triple fff Brewery have a large selection of award winning beers in fun, festive, sustainable packaging – guaranteed to make any beer lover happy. You could also grab T shirts, caps, jackets, hoodies, gilets, glasses, Beer Growlers, subscription offers, brewery tours, bottle openers and gift vouchers!…And if you are having a party, a polypin of Brewery fresh beer is certain to go down a storm! Come and visit us in Four Marks!

Give a gift that shows how much you care this Christmas. A pain relieving muscle rub is the perfect gift for anyone looking to genuinely improve the lives of their loved ones. Soothe this season with a groundbreaking anti-inflammatory gel that got Ian Botham back on his feet. Give the gift of relief, with EthicaCBD Sports Gel, for muscles, joints, and tendons. Visit www.ethicacbd.com

Looking for Christmas gifts that show you care? Bordon-based eco family firm LittleLeaf Organic designs beautiful homeware, gifts and baby wear in the very finest certified organic cotton. Everything is made in a solar-powered Fair Trade factory, so your gifts can be eco as well as luxurious! Proud winners of the 2023 most sustainable UK small business award, www.littleleaforganic.com

Christmas crackers in Berkshire

Karen Neville

Aladdin

December 25th is hurtling towards us faster than a child can unwrap their presents but there’s plenty to wrap yourself up in before the ‘big day’ with events to enjoy, markets to plunder, food and drink to tuck into and not forgetting Santa to visit…

Are you hanging up your stocking on the wall? Ok, perhaps a bit too soon but in the words of Noddy Holder ‘It’s Christmas’ and there’s so much to do before it’s stocking time.

Christmas demands sparkle and magic so how about starting the festive season with a light trail? Back for its third year, Windsor Great Park Illuminated will once again be awash with dazzling light installations that meander through woodland, by field and pond to take visitors through a dreamlike laser-scape. The dazzling light trail includes breathtaking projections, flood-lit fountains, and a wondrous adventure through colourful woodland with mythical creatures and dancing fairies lighting the way. Cosy rest spots offer mouth-watering food, mulled wine, hot chocolate, and marshmallow toasting. Booking essential www.windsorilluminated.com

Step into an illuminated kingdom at Wellington Country Park this winter and join Hope on an imaginative journey into Neverland.  Walk along poetic paths and embark on the enchanting adventure of Neverland Illuminova — an illuminated night trail that never grows old. Explore the woodlands and extended trail for 2023 with friends and family in a magical quest that offers something for everyone. Book essential, for more info visit www.neverlandilluminova.co.uk

Inspired by the timeless tale of woodland animals messing about on the river, Basildon Park is transformed into a Christmas woodland wonderland of The Wind in the Willows. Decorated trees, garlands and twinkling fairy lights set the scene and the magical theme extends out into the garden where woodland creatures frolic. Help keep Mr Toad out of trouble on the active festive trail around the garden.

Open at Christmas for the first time, Nuffield Place will be beautifully decked with trees, garlands, fairy lights and lots of car-inspired decorations. Home to William Morris, Lord Nuffield, founder of Morris Motors, the house guides share stories of the house and family as you wander around the decorated house, Driving Home for Christmas.

Greys Court has always been a place of warmth and welcome and this Christmas it is brimming with cherished Christmas memories. The house and estate are adorned with decorated trees, twinkling fairy lights and the magic of the season. Embodying the spirit of Christmas past, nostalgia runs through the gift-wrapped presents, traditional toys in the nursery and Lady Brunner’s gingerbread baking is available to taste in the kitchen. There’s a Christmas trail for children around the garden and candelight tours for grown-ups to explore Greys Court after dark with a glass of mulled wine and a mince pie.

Get ready to embark on a wild and wonderful Christmas adventure as Beale Wildlife Park gears up for the holiday season. It’s an opportunity to create lasting memories and support wildlife conservation efforts. Visit Santa’s Magical Grotto, meet the reindeer, follow the festival park trail hunting for hidden penguins or snowmen scattered throughout the park. A prize awaits at the finish line! Join in free festive crafts in the education centre and why not round off your day with mince pies and non-alcoholic mulled wine?

Santa needs help to find his missing reindeer at Didcot Railway Centre, they’ve escaped and he needs them to deliver the presents. Explore the unique collection of Great Western Railway steam locomotives, carriages, wagons, buildings and artefacts at the 21 acre museum while you locate all the reindeer stations. You’ll all receive a special passport and a stocking as you enter and as a reward, at each reindeer station, you’ll receive a small gift before finishing with a visit to Santa in the giant toy workshop and you’ll get to choose your own gift. Your entry ticket also includes unlimited train rides on the main demonstration line.

The perfect place to build special memories this Christmas is LEGOLAND® which has a variety of fun-filled activities and entertainment, as well as a sprinkling of magic. Snap an (s)elfie in front of the giant DUPLO® Christmas Tree, visit Miniland, where there will be lots of festive scenes hidden – don’t forget to write down your findings in your very own Jolly Journal! The Brick has been decorated for the festivities and has lots of activities & LEGO builds to keep little ones entertained! Don’t miss the live entertainment, Christmas Carols, characters to meet, plus over 30 rides and attractions to enjoy.

Reading Winter Wonderland is one of Berkshire’s ‘hottest ticket’ Christmas destinations. Opening its doors for the festive season through to January 7th, it offers a wide range of attractions, activities and entertainment for visitors of all ages including the Huge North Pole Giant Observation Wheel and the Penguin Bumper Cars, an après Ski Bar, a real ice skating rink undercover, Santa’s grotto and a wide variety of festive food and drinks to keep you full of festive joy.

Enjoy a skate in the historic Alexandra Gardens, Windsor, and take in all the fun of the fair! As well as the ice rink, ride family favourites the dodgems and others including the bungees, Twister, Race-o-Rama, the Waltzer, the toy ride, mini planes, helicopters and Santa’s sleigh roller coaster. Fully licensed food outlets will serve hot food and snacks from midday to 9pm.

Make chocolate lollies, join in with Santa’s Elf’s crafting and see Father Christmas himself at Chocolate for Chocoholics at Lea Farm, Hurst RG10 0SS. Selected dates this month. Book at www.chocolate-parties.com/santas-christmas-chocolate-grotto

Hop aboard Pinewood Miniature Railway in Wokingham for the Mince Pie specials and enjoy a train journey around the line – look out for the reindeer and other lineside decorations, a small gift for each child, mulled wine or non-alcoholic alternative and a mince pie or biscuit.

Hobbs of Henley are running their popular Santa Cruises again this year. The brilliant Bertie Slippers will have everyone roaring with laughter and will be adding some magic, balloons and puppets to the children’s entertainment. Santa will be in his grotto bearing gifts for all the children. Plus there will be refreshments and biscuits for the kids and a cash bar for the parents. Trips on 16th, 20th and 22nd, booking at www.hobbsofhenley.com/santa-cruises

Create a unique sensory winter wonderland with 20,000 dazzling LEDs in the Glow Room at The Lexicon, visit the Sparkle Selfie Station and shop at seasonal stalls among many more fun activities lined up for all the family to enjoy this Yuletide at the Bracknell shopping centre.

Give a gift that shows how much you care this Christmas. A pain relieving muscle rub is the perfect gift for anyone looking to genuinely improve the lives of their loved ones. Soothe this season with a groundbreaking anti-inflammatory gel that got Ian Botham back on his feet. Give the gift of relief, with EthicaCBD Sports Gel, for muscles, joints, and tendons. Visit www.ethicacbd.com

Review of Aladdin

Round & About

Aladdin

Review of Aladdin at the New Victoria Theatre Woking, by Lucy Barker

From the moment the curtain went up on Aladdin, my five-year-old was spellbound by the giant King Cobra snake that reared up at baddie Abanazar’s command. The thing was huge – it reached to the top of the stage and seemed to extend into the audience, complete with flashing eyes and sinuous body.

Next came the double act of David Phipps-Davis as Widow Twankey and Bobby Davro as Wishee Washee, old hats at panto, whose banter was a key feature of the production. Some of the comments were a bit adult for the children but the audience didn’t seem to mind. My son was particularly keen on the donkey derby that took place between ‘mother and son’ although the joke wore a bit thin for me.

As a lifelong Strictly Come Dancing Fan I was looking forward to seeing Brendan Cole, who didn’t disappoint as the Spirit of the Ring and completely overshadowed the special effects genie. I, like the rest of the audience, was entranced by the magic carpet ride taken by Aladdin (although my imagination was stretched a bit too far by the fact that only he got to take a ride, leaving his companions to just walk out of the cave!). This was a definite highlight as, like the snake, Aladdin flew over the audience as well as the stage.

CBBC favourite Mischa Eckersley did a good turn as Princess Jasmine and special mention must also got to Pearce Barro in the title role. The production also featured the talents of veteran ventriloquist Dawson Chance as Chief of Police.

Overall, it was a thoroughly enjoyable night out, from getting to sneak out at bedtime (his, not mine) with my son; to the display in the foyer of a monkey sneaking into the treasure cove; to obviously the production itself, which contained all the elements of a traditional Christmas pantomime.

The panto runs until 5th January 2020

For more information and tickets

Wishful thinking: Richmond panto star

Round & About

Aladdin

Amid a star-studded cast that also includes Robert Lindsay and Rachel Stanley, comedian Jon Clegg plays Smee in Aladdin, this year’s Richmond Theatre pantomime. We ask him some questions.

Q. How did you get into acting and who were your inspirations? “I got into acting through pantomime! I was working as a stand-up comedian and was told I should give panto a try. I’ve always loved comedy actors – probably Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson were my first inspiration, and Laurel and Hardy!”

Q. What was the first pantomime you remember seeing, and where? “I didn’t go to a pantomime until I was a teenager – how deprived is that?! But then my first panto was in Redhill, Surrey, and starred the lady from the Shake’n’Vac ads.”

Q. What was your first panto role? “I played Wishee Washee in Aladdin, at the Tameside Hippodrome in Ashton Under Lyme near Manchester. I was alongside Hunter from the Gladiators [James Crossley], Irene from Home and Away [Lynn McGrainger], and the vicar from Dad’s Army [Frank Williams].”

Q. What do you enjoy about playing panto? “It’s great to work with a cast of fabulous actors – I do solo stand-up work the rest of the year. And it’s great fun, entertaining an audience full of beaming children is a real pleasure!”

Q. Is there a role on your wish list you would love to play one Christmas? “I love playing the comedy role in pantomime. Buttons was always on my wish list, and I have been fortunate to play that role three times now!”

Q. I imagine performing in panto can be quite intense, with a lot of days with more than one performance. How do you relax off stage? “It is intense, but it’s also incredibly enjoyable and rewarding. I enjoy long walks, eating out and watching sport when I’m not on the stage.”

Q. Is this the first time you have appeared at Richmond? “Yes, it’s my first time at Richmond. I came to see panto here 10 years ago, when I was in Brighton, as a friend was in the show. Paul Zerdin and Nigel Havers were the stars. They were brilliant, and two years later I worked with Nigel in Peter Pan at the Hawth Theatre in Crawley.”

Q. Peter Pan is set on an island. If you were stranded on an island which three people living, historic or fictional would you like to have with you and why?
“Firstly, my wife (of course!) along with Winston Churchill and Anthony Kiedis (lead singer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers)”.

  • Peter Pan is on at Richmond Theatre between Saturday, 8th December & Sunday, 6th January. Other Christmas shows worth catching include Snow White at the Palladium and 42nd Street at Theatre Royal Drury Lane.

Fairytales & fun: panto

Round & About

Aladdin

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 
www.anvilarts.org.uk

Happy holidays!

Fairytales & fun: panto

Round & About

Aladdin

Your local theatres have a stockingful of pantomimes to delight family audiences (and some just for adults). 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.

Recently, some press has been given to the nature of fairytales and pantomimes not chiming at the right level of political correctness… However, that’s not stopping Michelle Gayle, who plays the Fairy Godmother in this year’s Cinderella at Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud, from getting into the spirit… “Long before Disney realised you can entertain parents and children simultaneously, pantomime had figured out entertainment can work on two levels,” says the 47-year-old singer and actress. “Going to see a panto is such a lovely thing for the whole family to do together at Christmas. My family are really looking forward to coming – my son’s already asking how many friends he’s allowed to bring! And, to be honest, I’m particularly excited that I get to present Cinderella with a beautiful carriage drawn by real ponies! It’s going to be magical.”
You can catch Cinderella (which also stars Kit Hesketh-Harvey, Eagle Radio’s Peter Gordon and Nick Barclay as the Ugly Sisters and Jamie Brook between Friday, 7th December, and Sunday, 6th January. For tickets call 01483 440000 or visit www.yvonne-arnaud.co.uk

 Over at Theatre Royal Windsor Dick Whittington will celebrate 80 years of traditional panto 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

Paul Chuckle will star as Baron Hardup in Cinderella at Woking’s New Victoria Theatre. Paul says: “I’d like to thank everybody for their amazingly kind outpouring of love and support following the loss of our dear friend and my amazing brother, Barry. Panto was a huge part of our lives for over 50 years and I know Barry would want and expect the show to go on so I’m very happy to be starring in Cinderella in Woking this Christmas alongside our good friend Craig Revel Horwood. The three of us had a fantastic time doing panto last year and Craig and I are looking forward to going out there, getting started and doing this year’s panto in loving memory of Barry.” Cinderella is on between Friday, 7th December and Sunday, 6th January. Call 01483 545938.

Over in Bordon, The Phoenix Players are sharpening their arrows ready to present Robin Hood between 17th and 26th January, at The Phoenix. And, if you’d rather enjoy something adult, Puss In Boots, penned by Joshua Dixon, is an adults-only show full of “sauce and smut” on Friday, 21st December. For tickets call 01420 472664 or visit www.phoenixarts.co.uk

For a different kind of show again, some of the region’s skating talents will bring you Snow White On Ice at Guildford Spectrum between Friday, 14th and Sunday, 16th December. Call 01483 443322 or visit www.guildfordspectrum.co.uk

Head to mystical Leatherheadababa (AKA The Leatherhead Theatre) for Aladdin between Thursday, 20th and Sunday, 30th December; 01372 365141 or visit www.leatherheadtheatre.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. Beauty & The Beast is also the production at Dorking Halls, between 15th and 29th December, from the team behind last year’s record-breaking Sleeping Beauty; call 01306 881717 or visit www.dorkinghalls.co.uk. 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 www.anvilarts.org.uk. Happy holidays!