WhatsOnStage Logo
Home link
Review Round-Ups

The best and worst pantomimes of 2016

Find out which panto you should be seeing this Christmas

Aladdin, Lyric Hammersmith


Arthur McBain as Wishy Washy, Karl Queensborough as Aladdin and Vikki Stone as Abanazer in Aladdin
© Tristram Kenton

"In comedian Vikki Stone, West London has found itself a proper panto superstar; a rival, at last, to Hackney's great dame Clive Rowe. Her baddie is the absolute business – so camply malevolent that she has to calm her own boos before the show can continue."

"It's fitting that the Lyric's panto should be defined by its villain. After eight years, it has well and truly found its own tone, and its spirit is one of mischief and mayhem – almost to the point where pandemonium overrides the pantomime. "

Aladdin runs at the Lyric Hammersmith until 7 January.

Cinderella, London Palladium


Julian Clary (Dandini) and Nigel Havers (Lord Chamberlain)
© Paul Coltas & Steve Williams

"It has everything you'd want and expect from a panto but ramped up to the absolute max. The flying starts from right at the beginning, the glitter is on everything and the jokes flow and flow and flow."

"Amanda Holden holds herself very well in the always stilted character of the Fairy Godmother and the two leads - Lee Mead and Natasha Barnes - are a delight."

"Julian Clary and Paul O'Grady are outrageous and hilarious and an eye-watering addition to a show that bodes well for the future life of panto in the West End."

Cinderella runs at the London Palladium until 15 January 2017.

Sinbad the Sailor, Theatre Royal Stratford East


Josephine Melville and Alim Jayda

"I did notice the care that director Kerry Michael and designers Harriet Barsby and Jenny Tiramini had lavished on every single detail; the little cartoon introductions to Sinbad sailing on the sea, the shadow puppets that tell the stories of his adventures, the way that the cast rush around the stage in brightly coloured paper boats before being beached on a desert island, where giant monkey puppets greeted them in a dance."

"By the close, the audience are singing along and I am smiling broadly, full of a spirit of something like good cheer. The fourth star is generous, but this is a generous theatre that has presented a pantomime with a good heart and considerable style."

Sinbad the Sailor runs at Theatre Royal Stratford East until 21 January 2017.

Beauty on the Piste, Above the Stag


Beauty on the Piste

"Billed as an adult panto, this one is definitely not for the kids and not one to see with your parents in tow either."

"The songs are specifically written for the panto, and are few in number and musically nothing stunning. The lyrics however are well thought out and bring out some of the biggest laughs of the night. The singing a little out of tune, but as it is a panto and in such a small theatre it doesn't detract too much from the fun."

"Those not in the know of LGBT ‘slang' might get a little lost at some of the jokes, but if you're in that market, this is a brilliant way to kick off your festivities."

Beauty on the Piste runs at Above the Stag until 14 January.

Scrooge and the Seven Dwarves, Theatre503


James Dunnell-Smith, John Woodburn and Joshua George Smith
© David Monteith-Hodge

"There's less songs in this pantomime than others in town - perhaps a good thing considering the quality of the cast's singing voices doesn't match that of their comic acting - nevertheless the musical interludes are funny, original and range from '80s electropop to a barbershop quartet slash rap mashup."

"Zahra Mansouri's design transforms Theatre503's tiny space into a treasure chest of imagination as scenes flip between Victorian London, Fairytale Land and Lapland."

"During the interval I heard a mother ask her small child if they were enjoying the show, "It's absolutely ridiculous, I love it" she replied, and I couldn't put it any better myself."

Scrooge and the Seven Dwarves runs at Theatre503 until 7 January 2017.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Theatre Royal Plymouth


Duncan James (Prince Charming) in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
© Alastair Muir

"I should have believed in the magic of panto a little more. Because what happens almost every year is that, much like Cinderella's mice and pumpkin, a little fairy dust is sprinkled and everything is transformed into a happy, sparkly world guaranteed to leave you with a huge grin on your face."

"Blue's Duncan James, a panto babe himself with only two previous outings under his belt, understands the rules – hands on hips, handsome pout and at some stage you will lose your shirt (that one is for all the mums out there)."

"Lesley Joseph as Queen Lucretia, Snow White's wicked stepmother, draws on every ounce of her experience to drive the narrative forward. She harnesses the power of Dorien in Birds of a Feather and there's a nod to her Strictly Come Dancing performance too as she relishes the role."

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs runs at Theatre Royal Plymouth until 14 January.

Dick Whittington, Birmingham Hippodrome


The cast of Dick Whittington
© Paul Coltas

"An old hand at panto these days, [John Barrowman] has playing to the audience down to a tee with bucket loads of charm, plenty of banter and just a little bit of naughty humour."

"The cast gels well with plenty of interplay and apparent ad-libbing. An underwater "12 Days of Christmas" is zany and fun – with plenty of opportunities for additional jokes and humour."

"This Dick Whittington plays for laughs and audience interaction with plot development second fiddle to music, dancing and comedy. Pre-show publicity does warn the show has "the odd naughty joke for grown-up laughter" and it is sprinkled with adult humour which parents will be hoping their children don't pick up on."

Dick Whittington runs at Birmingham Hippodrome until 29 January.

Peter Pan, Churchill Theatre, Bromley


Craig Revel Horwood
© Craig Sugden

"With his reputation for sour-faced, scathing put-downs on Strictly Come Dancing, Craig Revel Horwood is a shoo-in for the part of Captain Hook, and this is a revival of a role which, it has to be said, suits him down to the ground."

"The musical direction of the show is outstanding, and Revel Horwood was quite right to call for appreciation for the orchestra which belted through the score with wonderful energy and precision under Steve Clark."

"With flying, fireworks and a frightful villain, [Barbara] Evans' pantomime ticks all the boxes for a fun family Christmas treat."

Peter Pan runs at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley until 7 January 2017.


Sleeping Beauty, Richmond Theatre


Maureen Lipman as the Wicked Fairy in Sleeping Beauty
© Craig Sugden

"Returning to panto after nearly 12 years, [Maureen Lipman]plays Carabosse, the evil fairy that sends Sleeping Beauty into her slumber. A potent mixture of gleeful wickedness and adolescent petulance (there is plenty of eye-rolling and dramatic sighing) she invites resounding boos with every sneer and swish of her cape."

"Eric Potts's script isn't the funniest I've heard, nor are its rhymes the most inventive on the block, but it has plenty of contemporary references and local gags to keep the adults happy. M&S adverts, Pokemon Go, and Richmond's latest set of roadworks are some of the butts of this year's jokes. "

"But this show still has more than enough panto magic to make it well worth a watch."

Sleeping Beauty runs at Richmond Theatre until 8 January.

Sleeping Beauty, Hackney Empire


Alexia Khadime in Hackney Empire's Sleeping Beauty
© Robert Workman

"The political-cultural nods are there (Brexit, Boris, Jeremy Hunt, the gentrification of Hackney are all referenced) and a couple of numbers really get the joint jumping (I defy anybody not to leave the theatre on a high after the joyously infectious "Can't Stop The Feeling" finale). Yet, at least on press night, the show as a whole feels slightly undercooked."

"There is still much to enjoy, chief among them Sharon D Clarke's bad tempered, wondrously imperious Jamaican bad fairy ("Bow down all you horrendous Hackneytonians"). Most of the moments when the show lifts off (and to be fair, there are quite a few) tend to be hers."

"It's a jolly night out, pitched at almost the right point between delighting the kids and not alienating the adults. It's just not quite the Hackney team at the top of their game."

Sleeping Beauty runs at Hackney Empire until 8 January.

Pinocchio, King's Head Theatre


Joshua Da Costa
© Bill Knight

"[There's] the kind of madness that you'd expect from a pantomime, except it's very hard to see any point in it all. A moral of sorts is tacked on to the final scene but it all just seems a tad trite."

"The cast of six are a talented bunch of singers, warbling their way through a medley of classic tunes from Queen to Abba, The Beatles to Britney. But the sound is lost on numerous occasions, unforgivable in a space not much bigger than my living room."

"I could tell you it's worth checking out for yourself, but I'd be scared my nose might grow."

Pinocchio runs at the King's Head Theatre, Islington until 7 January 2017.

Mother Goose, Wilton's Music Hall


L - R Amelia Rose Morgan as Jill, Ian Jones as Willy Goose, Beatrice, Roy Hudd as Mother Goose & Ian Parkin as Squire in Mother Goose
© Matt Crossick

"The wings have fallen off at Wilton's. Having dished up the first panto in its 157-year history last Christmas – a loving heritage effort true to the form's music hall roots – the follow-up is a bit of a let-down."

"Debbie Flitcroft's production creaks like an arthritic knees-up, and only Lee Evans lookalike Ian Jones instils any sense of energy. He's still hampered by a script that hardly turns up."

"My main grouse, not to snipe, is the poultry number of goose gags on offer, ducking the game altogether. The laughs come, instead, from the shambolic, teetering tone that, too often, feels like the cast are having more fun that we are. In the end, this Mother Goose is past its prime and undercooked."

Mother Goose runs at Wilton's Music Hall until 31 December.

Dick Whittington, New Wimbledon Theatre


Arlene Phillips as Fairy Bowbells and Sam Hallion as Dick Whittington in Dick Whittington
© Darren Bell

"It must be said that Dick Whittington is a tricky panto choice, although there is potential in the animals - the juicy Rat King baddy, and Dick's sparky cat. Here though, both four-legged friends fall a little flat, with Indi-Jay Cammish's feline Tommy only getting two chances to show off her impressive kung-fu skills and Matt Harrop's King Rat feeling a bit like a lame gerbil."

"Arlene Phillips is this year's guest star as Fairy Bowbells and she is very sweet, but also very wooden. Commercial pantos famously have very short rehearsal periods (presumably for cost reasons) and it really shows here."

"There are some nice moments, but these are mostly in the audience participation sections when the kids get on stage and provide more laughs than the rest of the evening put together."

Dick Whittington runs at the New Wimbledon Theatre until 15 January.

Click here for our Christmas and pantomime page