It's that time of year again. Oh yes it is! And, as ever, WhatsOnStage has compiled its annual pick of the pantos to help you navigate the jungle that is Christmas season in theatreland...
Starting in the capital, this year's starriest panto sees much-loved comic Jo Brand make her panto debut in Aladdin at the New Wimbledon Theatre, also featuring Flawless as the Peking Police Force, actor and presenter Matthew Kelly as Widow Twanky and Priscilla star Oliver Thornton in the title role.
Meanwhile, theatregoers in Milton Keynes can see Life's Too Short star Warwick Davis in (guess what) Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, while Henry Winkler - aka The Fonz - will be working his charm on the Richmond locals in Peter Pan.
Peter Pan is also the panto of choice at the Liverpool Empire, where playing the titular boy who never grew up is Ray Quinn, star of Grease and The X Factor. And in nearby Manchester, I'd Do Anything winner Jodie Prenger will play Fairy Bowbells in Dick Whittington.
Another former X Factor star treading the panto boards this year is Andy Abraham, who's appearing in Robin Hood and the Babes in the Wood in Sevenoaks. And Marcus Collins, recently seen in the UK tour of Hairspray, will be dressing to impress in Derby where he's playing the title role in Jack and the Beanstalk (that would be Jack, not the Beanstalk...).
In Cambridge, the Arts Theatre is staging a production of Robin Hood starring Rock of Ages' Ross Hunter; while in Woking, CBeebies star Justin Fletcher plays Buttons in Cinderella; meanwhile, up in Stoke, local boy Jonathan Wilkes stars in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and in Aylesbury Anita Dobson plays against type as The Wicked Fairy Carabosse in Sleeping Beauty.
Alongside more mainstream offerings, a growing number of 'adult' alternatives have sprung up at fringe venues in recent years. Chief among them this year is Jack Off the Beanstalk at Above the Stag, newly relocated to Vauxhall, while over at the Leicester Square Theatre you can catch the eye-wateringly titled Dick Comes Again: Bigger, Longer, Harder!
Returning to more family-friendly fare, Scottish audiences are served this year by options including Aladdin (King's Theatre, Glasgow), starring panto favourite Karen Dunbar, and Peter Pan (King's Theatre, Edinburgh) with local stalwarts Grant Stott, Andy Gray and Allan Stewart.
In Wales, the New Theatre, Cardiff is playing host to innuendo king (or should that be queen?) Julian Clary as the intriguingly-monikered 'Spirit of the Beans' in Jack and the Beanstalk, while nearby Bristol Hippodrome is staging Cinderella featuring the irrepressible Louie Spence as Dandini.
Finally, back in London, Steven Webb will be returning to the Lyric Hammersmith to lead its festive offering Jack and the Beanstalk, scripted by playwright Tom Wells. Across town at the Hackney Empire, 'panto queen' Susie McKenna returns to write/direct Puss in Boots starring Sharon D Clarke. And why not consider dressing up yourself to take part in the Hackney Empire's charity 1km 'Dame Dash' on 27 October?
We can't list every noteworthy production here, so be sure to visit our dedicated panto page for more information about pantos and festive family shows near you. Merry Christmas!
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