Sorting the crackers from the turkeys when it comes to panto season is never an easy task. However, with no shortage of celebrities and favourite 'grande dames' preparing to don the tights and grab the sweet bucket for another year, we've put together a run-down of what's on offer - from Pammy in Wimbledon to Biggins in 3D. And with pantomime returning to the heart of the West End as well as one of the capital's most revered new writing houses this year, it really does seem that panto is back with a bang (and a poof of smoke).



One of the biggest names taking to the stage this Christmas is pneumatic former Baywatch star Pamela Anderson, who will play the Genie of the Lamp in Aladdin at the New Wimbledon Theatre. However, in what's thought to be a panto casting first, Anderson will share the part with several other stars, including Ruby Wax and Paul O'Grady (See News, 16 Oct 2009). If you want to see the blonde bombshell, you'll have to book between 13 and 27 December, though stage stalwart Brian Blessed will play the evil Abanazar for the duration of the run (4 December 2009-10 January 2010).

In Birmingham, X Factor star Ray Quinn, fresh from his stint as Danny in the West End production of Grease, headlines as the Prince in Sleeping Beauty at the Birmingham Hippodrome, which runs from 19 December to 31 January. Joining Quinn is squeaky-voiced comic Joe Pasquale, returning to the venue for the third time to provide light relief as Muddles.

The One and Only Chesney Hawkes (geddit?) is heading for the bright lights of Grimsby this Yuletide to play the title role in Jack and the Beanstalk (10 December-3 January). Meanwhile, EastEnders' Dirty Den Leslie Grantham will be living up to his name as evil Abanazar in Aladdin at the White Rock Theatre in Hastings (11 December–3 January), as will fellow soap baddie Gray O'Brien, better known as Coronation Street's Tony Gordon, in the same role at the Manchester Opera House (5 December-3 January).

Panto stalwart (and reportedly now its biggest earner) Christopher Biggins will be plying his trade at the Plymouth Theatre Royal this year, starring as Widow Twankey in a production of Aladdin which promises "an array of outstanding and unmissable 3D wizardry". Apparently, audience members will be issued with 3D glasses to wear during certain sections of the show - the showpiece being a "3D magic carpet ride". Pantomime very much for the 21st Century. 

And at the Royal & Derngate in Northampton, husband and wife team Linda Lusardi and Sam Kane star in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (11 December to 10 January), 16 years after they first met whilst doing panto together. All together now, "ahhhh".

Panto back in the West End

Pantomime returns to the heart of the West End this Christmas, with the newly-refurbished Arts Theatre staging Hackney Empire panto queen Susie McKenna and Steve Edis' adaptation of A Christmas Carol, with a cast led by comedian Gareth Hale as Scrooge (See News, 12 Aug 2009).

And speaking of the Hackney Empire, Clive Rowe is returning to the venue, following his Olivier Award-nominated turn as Mother Goose last year, to play Widow Twankey in McKenna's staging of Aladdin (28 November-9 January). The production marks the end of an era for the historic east London theatre, which will close after the run for a nine-month 'period of reflection' in light of its troubled financial situation (See News, 24 Sep 2009).
 
Meanwhile, for London audiences without children in tow, the Leicester Square Theatre is staging "adults only" panto Sinderfella, featuring drag queen Bette Rinse in the title role and Big Brother’s Kat (aka 'the Cookie Monster'), as Fairy Gone Wong, from the 4 to 30 December 2009. And at the Shaw Theatre, Aladdin is being given a rock 'n' roll twist by Tweenies creators Iain Lauchlan and Will Brenton in an actor-musician production featuring two former Buddies (as in, they both starred in Buddy, they're not friends-turned-enemies).

Keeping it traditional

The prize for most eclectic panto writing team this year has to go to London's Lyric Hammersmith and its production of Jack and the Beanstalk, which runs from 30 November 2009 (previews from 21 November) to 3 January 2010. The venue's artistic director Sean Holmes has commissioned a team comprising playwrights Richard Bean, Morgan Lloyd Malcolm and Joel Horwood and comedy writer Jocelyn Jee Esien to add extra festive spice to the 'rebirth of panto' at the new writing powerhouse (See News, 3 Jun 2009).

At the opposite end of the capital, the Theatre Royal Stratford East is reuniting the team responsible for the Olivier Award-nominated Cinderella two years ago, led by director Kerry Michael, to present a new version of Aladdin. And if traditional panto is your thing, a little further east you'll find the Queen's Theatre Hornchurch, which for the last few years has established a reputation for its critically-acclaimed family festive offerings. This year it's Sleeping Beauty, which runs between the 3 December and 16 January.

And, last but by no means least, the fledgling Leicester Curve has chosen as its second Christmas show a new musical version of JM Barrie's Peter Pan, with music and lyrics by Julian Ronnie and choreography by the prolific Bill Deamer.

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