It's that time of year again. Oh yes it is! And, as ever, Whatsonstage.com has compiled its annual pick of the pantos and family shows to help you navigate the verdant jungle that is Christmas season in theatreland.

Among many highlights this year, Dame Edna makes her panto debut in Dick Whittington at the New Wimbledon, Sooty returns to the West End after 13 years, while for those looking for more traditional productions, West End runs of the RSC's Matilda and Bristol Old Vic's Swallows and Amazons will delight children and adults alike.

This winter also sees David Hasselhoff return to the Panto stage, as well as Simon Callow performing a one-man rendition of a perennial Christmas favourite. So without further ado, here's our ten of the best...


Many familiar faces return to Hackney Empire's Cinderella, including Kat B and Tony Whittle as The Ugly Stepsisters, but one Olivier-nominated dame is taking a year off after nine Hackney pantomimes. Clive Rowe is currently appearing in The Ladykillers in the West End (couldn't you do both Clive?!). Joanna Riding makes her panto debut as the evil stepmother in the production, directed and written as always by Susie McKenna. Running from 1 December until 8 January 2012, Cinderella also features Sophia Ragavelas and Wayne Perry as Cinderella and Prince Charming.

Across town, Steven Webb returns as Wishy Washy in Aladdin at the Lyric Hammersmith, joined by fellow returnee Shaun Prendergast as Widow Twankey and Hammed Animashaun in the title role. Following the success of Dick Whittington & His Cat and Jack & the Beanstalk, writers Joel Horwood and Morgan Lloyd Malcom reunite with Soho Theatre artistic director Steve Marmion for the show, where the cast are joined by an ensemble of actors from the Lyric Young Company. Aladdin continues until 31 December.

The Bristol Old Vic's acclaimed staging of Swallows and Amazons sails into the West End for a five-week run from 15 December to 14 January 2012 at the Vaudeville Theatre. Director Tom Morris, artistic director of Bristol Old Vic, also co-directed the National Theatre's Tony Award-winning production of War Horse. Written by Helen Edmundson with songs by Neil Hannon, Swallows and Amazons is based on the much-loved books by Arthur Ransome where Captain John and his able crew set sale on an adventure to Wildcat Island.

And speaking of acclaimed adaptations of children's books, Tim Minchin and Dennis Kelly have added even more magic to Roald Dahl's Matilda, which played to sold-out audiences at the RSC's Courtyard Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon last year and recently opened to rave reviews in the West End. Directed by Matthew Warchus, the high-energy production features Bertie Carvel as the monstrous Miss Trunchbull who terrorizes the children and teachers alike, including the lovely Miss Honey (Lauren Ward). The show has already been garlanded with a clutch of Evening Standard Awards, and recently received no less than nine nominations in the Whatsonstage.com Awards.

National treasure Dame Edma Everage makes her panto debut in Dick Whittington, written by Sarah Nixon and Mark Chatterton, at the New Wimbledon Theatre this Christmas. Joined by Dancing on Ice champion Sam Attwater as Dick and Nickelodeon presenter Anna Williamson as Alice Fitzwaren, Dame Edna will take her possums to the ancient city paved with gold in this rock 'n' roll panto from 15 December to 15 January 2012.

Former Wimbledon panto star The Hoff will reprise his role as Captain Hook in First Family Entertainment's Peter Pan at the Hippodrome in Bristol this Christmas. Joining the Knight Rider and Baywatch star is Robert Rees as Peter Pan, Andy Ford as Smee and Janine Esther Cowell as Wendy. Families can discover the magic of Neverland with bucket-loads of audience participation, lavish sets and costumes and an array of song and dance numbers from 10 December to 8 January 2012.

Back in the capital, artist and art director Su Blackwell has created an enchanting winter wonderland for the Rose's production of The Snow Queen, which opens on 8 December (previews from 2 December). Charles Way's adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's inspiring tale of friendship and bravery features Fresh Meat and Sugar Rush star Sara Stewart as the Snow Queen, Skins' Bettrys Jones as Gerda, and Zac Fox as Cei.

And after 13 years, everyone's favourite glove puppet Sooty returns to the West End this December for his all new Christmas show, featuring TV host Richard Cadell and "the world's greatest ringmaster", Norman Barrett. Sooty, Sweep, Soo and friends take over the Garrick Theatre in Sooty - Izzy Wizzy Let's Get Busy for two weeks of Christmas fun and mayhem beginning 12 December, complete with Father Christmas' surprise visit to deliver a present for every child in the theatre to take home.

Elsewhere, the Arts Theatre presents another solo show from the master Simon Callow, who will perform A Christmas Carol as part of the Arts' three-show Christmas season, from 10 December to 14 January 2012. Co created by Callow and Tom Cairns, the production is a masterclass in storytelling that celebrates goodness, justice and redemption. Callow's return to Dickens follows after international success with his one-man production of The Mystery of Charles Dickens in the West End and Broadway, Dr Marigold and Mr Chops and Being Shakespeare.

Finally, if you can't decide which panto to watch, you can see eight in the Whatsonstage.com Award-nominated children's Christmas show Potted Panto, which returns to the Vaudeville Theatre. Pantomime classic Goldilocks and the Three Bears was chosen by the pubic to be the eighth and final show to be included in this year's production, which is performed as ever CBBC stars by Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner and opens on 20 December.

We can't list every noteworthy production here, so be sure to visit our dedicated panto search page for more information about pantos and festive family shows near you. Merry Christmas!

- Natalie Generalovich