Theatre News

Pantomime and Other Dames on Parade – Part One

Christmas shows – like most things in life, whether theatrical or otherwise – come in many different guises. There are the traditional pantomimes, which can be lavish affairs from a specialist commercial producer or use an in-house company team to offer something which is tailored to a particular theatre and its local audience. And there are also shows which are seasonal but not actually pantomime.

You can take your pick of all varieties this winter. My most recent check threw up over 50 different shows in the south-east, with Cinderella coming out as a clear favourite with Jack and the Beanstalk and Aladdin trailing behind. A new entry this season is The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe which is being staged at two separate theatres in contrasted productions.

Starting this weekend and running until 3 January at the Watermill, Newbury is James and the Giant Peach in the David Wood adaptation of the Roald Dahl story. Also this weekend the Nuffield Theatre in Southampton have a new and home-grown production of The Wind in the Willows which you can harvest up to 9 January. Closely related, of course, is Toad of Toad Hall which is being staged at Norwich’s Maddermaster Theatre from 17 December to 2 January. Eastern Angles in Ipswich have a reputation for running variations on classic themes over Christmas, and this year is no exception. Mansfield Park and Ride may have bonnets and breeches, but it’s a long way from Jane Austen. It runs from 2 December until 23 January.

Anvil Arts are presenting the Glynn Robbins adaptation of C S LewisThe Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in a production directed by Richard Williams at the Haymarket Theatre in Basingstoke from 4 December to 2 January. Bruce James’ production of the same story at the Palace Theatre, Westcliff uses the Adrian Mitchell adaptation and has music by Shaun Davey. The run, which includes the increasingly popular Sunday performances, is between 11 December and 3 January.

Gomito Productions specialise in a blend of physical theatre, puppetry and live music for their young audiences. A Merry Little Christmas promises to be just that at The Junction in Cambridge from 8 December to 3 January. At the Ipswich New Wolsey Theatre Studio there’s a show for those children still too young for a full-length pantomime – The Enormous Turnip has puppets, comedy and musical carrots (yes, really!) but definitely no turkeys in a collaboration between Stuff & Nonsense in association with the Salisbury Playhouse and Merlin Theatre. Morning and afternoon performances between 9 December and 2 January.

Follow the yellow brick road to Winchester’s Theatre Royal where The Wizard of Oz holds court between 9 and 31 December. This production keeps to the original story but has incorporated elements of the traditional pantomime, so there should be something to please everyone in the show. More magical adventures with Alice in Wonderland as she dreams her way down the rabbit-hole at the Theatre Royal, Portsmouth from 17 December to 2 January and also at the Quay Theatre in Sudbury between 19 December and 3 January.

At the Rose Theatre in Kingston Treasure Island holds on to its secrets from 11 December until 9 January while there’s a short run of Charles DickensA Christmas Carol at the Gulbenkian Theatre in Canterbury between 12 and 17 December. And, if you really cannot stomach anything with a remotely seasonal theme, then perhaps Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat will be more your style. It stars Craig Chalmers and is on at the Cambridge Corn Exchange from 15 December until 3 January, going on to the Alban Arena in St Albans from 25 to 30 January.

Enid Blyton is a children’s author who has aroused mixed feelings in adults, if not in children. Her tomboys of her famous gang find themselves caught up in the past as well as the present when Five and the Mystery of Sherwood Forest are on stage at the New Cut Arts Centre in Halesworth. There’s a strong environmental message underpinning the adventure, for the Forest Visitors’ Centre is all boarded up and a construction company can think of another use for all those trees… It’s on from 22 December to 2 January.