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The best and worst pantomimes of 2018

Find out which shows are the fairest in all the land

Some of this year's panto offerings
© Clockwise from left: Robert Workman, Craig Sugden and Robert Day

Christmas is ticking on and we've got a whole bundle of panto reviews – but which shows are the fairest in all the land? We round-up this year's offerings from across the country:


Carl Mullaney (Dame) in Dick Whittington
©Tristram Kenton

Dick Whittington, Lyric Hammersmith

★★★★★

"To be a success, a pantomime needs to tick a lot of boxes – and this hit show scores on every level, as well as establishing a heartwarming sense of community. Written by director Jude Christian and Cariad Lloyd, it's packed with jokes, physical comedy and topical references, as well as a healthy helping of the saucy asides that are inevitable with a hero named Dick. It also zips along at a cracking pace.

"Director Christian has produced a show which feels like a celebration of all that's good about London and its citizens. "If you live here, you're one of us," Bow Belles declares, a declaration of inclusion heartily seconded by all the Londoners in the house. The atmosphere is amplified by this being the Lyric's 10th-anniversary production. With all the elements you could want from a traditional pantomime, it's fabulous family fun." Until 6 January 2019


Barbara Hockaday, Nicola Martinus-Smith and Danny Burns in The Snow Queen
© Robert Day

The Snow Queen, Liverpool Everyman

★★★★

"Created (as usual) by writers Sarah A Nixon and Mark Chatterton – who also directs – the show rolls like a snowball through its Snow Queen source before picking up hints of Narnia, a few perky Midsummer Night's Dream-ish fairies and some S&M-tinted ice-cream themed giddiness. And then everyone sings Beyoncé.

"And it's brilliant fun.

"At the heart of the theatrical blizzard is the multi-skilled cast, who simultaneously deliver superb comic routines, power the electrifying on-stage band, and twist and twirl themselves into knots during the note-perfect songs. Without missing a beat, (under the musical direction of Greg Last), they churn out power ballads and rock classics, disco gems and new wave weirdness, all moulded round the rapidly disintegrating plot." Until 19 January


Tameka Empson as The Empress and Clive Rowe as Widow Twankey in Aladdin
© Robert Workman

Aladdin, Hackney Empire

★★★★

"I'm pleased to report that the show does deliver on the panto goods. It's a little lacking in Hackney's signature barbed political take downs, a little half-hearted on the audience interaction and I wished for a few more comedy set pieces from the shows out-and-out stars, Clive Rowe and Tameka Empson. There's a lot of plot, and a lot of making sure the plot is understood, at the expense of some real, silly slapdash laughs. But that said this panto has huge heart, some excellent gags and hits many of the right notes to make its audiences hoot with laughter most of the way through."

"Hackney's Aladdin may not quite manage to top some of the theatre's past pantomime glories, but it does a top job of putting on a great show complete with guts, guffaws and greatness. It's very nice to see the old gang back together." Until 6 January


Paul Merton in Aladdin
© Craig Sugden

Aladdin, New Wimbledon Theatre

★★★★

"The chief source of mirth is the panto debut of Paul Merton as Widow Twankey. Making few, if any, concessions to femininity, this ole girl is a gloriously lugubrious creation, masterfully tossing off difficult tongue twisters, delivering questionable jokes ("get your parents to explain that one to you in the interval") and deadpanning through patter songs, it's a masterclass in understated comic brilliance"

"They get so much right here: the traditional song 'round' where the leading players get to test their mettle in a music hall-style number that gets more exhilarating as it gets more complicated to perform; the authentically thrilling 3D effects; the crazy glitz of the sets and most of the costumes. It's entirely worth spending your Christmas pounds on." Until 6 January


l-r Julian Clary as The Man in the Mirror and Nigel Havers as The Understudy
© Paul Coltas

Snow White, London Palladium

★★★

"Is this the most lavish pantomime you'll ever see? Probably: from the eye-popping sets and jaw-dropping flying effects through to the glittery flights-of-fancy costumes to the gorgeous lighting and projections and a profligacy of star turns, this is an almost indecently lavish parade of theatrical excess. Is it the best panto you'll ever see? Well...probably not, especially if you saw the last two Palladium extravaganzas."

"Dawn French's wicked Queen Dragonella is great value, having terrible problems pitching her evil laugh and generally being far too cute to be genuinely nasty." Until 13 January


Robert Lindsay
© Craig Sugden

Peter Pan, Richmond Theatre

★★★

"Robert Lindsay is ruling the roost in Richmond. Complete with hook, hat and a bucket-load of eyeliner, he might look like a Jack Sparrow cosplayer, but he's a natural gem for the panto crowd young and old. Slipping into villainy like a well worn glove, the early scenes of Peter Pan see him dissect the limbs of a teddy bear, before being equally cutting to the orchestra for their poor performance (it's worth stressing that, led by Pierce Tee, the orchestra are actually pretty swell)."

"It's a shame that the show around him is so much less magical to watch. The plot (flying boy lurks outside young girl's window, takes her and her brothers away to be a maternal figure to a group of lost children in a fantasy world) is whizzed through faster than a Tinkerbell on roller blades (admittedly well played by Isobel Hathaway, one ramp away from a role in Starlight Express)...Tiger Lily and her followers, here rebranded as 'The Neverlanders', are dressed by Mike Coltman to look like they're one flight away from a sesh at Burning Man." Until 6 January


Krystal Dockery (Fairy Stardust) in Sleeping Beauty
© Scott Rylander

Sleeping Beauty, Theatre Royal Stratford East

★★★

"In the original tale of Sleeping Beauty, the princess is under an evil curse and asleep for so much of the time that it makes her, says director Matthew Xia, 'the most inactive central character in the history of storytelling'.

"Clearly that won't do in modern times, so in this sparky re-telling by Sarah A Nixon and Mark Chatterton, the princess is a forest-dwelling eco warrior named Scarlett. She becomes her own hero through the magic of time travel – and her prince needs rescuing from a malevolent spell just as much as she does."

"There's one lively dance routine based on the Floss, choreographed by Rachael Nanyonjo, but this production could do with more dance numbers, not least in the curiously static rendition of "Thriller" where the attendant robots don't so much as tap their toes."

"This is a lively and enthusiastic performance that's full of imagination and great ideas. It just needs a little more of the crispness and clarity that's necessary to fully engage a young audience." Until 12 January


Brian Conley and Gok Wan
(© Dave Betts Photography)

Cinderella, Bristol Hippodrome

★★★

"This is the fourth year of Gok Wan and Brian Conley working together in panto and, by their own admission, they've built up a happy if somewhat unlikely bromance. This year is no different as they arrive in the South West in tacky festive splendor as part of Qdos' festive offering in Bristol, with Wan starring as the Fairy Gokmother and Conley as Buttons.

"It's hard to be too down on this Cinderella, especially when there's so much good work and will on offer. But it needs a more even balance between the star's set pieces and the pantomime set pieces. Still, there's undeniable chemistry here between Wan and Conley and it's a treat to watch it in play." Until 6 January

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