It’s panto time
Phil Hewitt rounds up the panto action taking place this Christmas.
They’re behind you! They’re in front of you! In fact, they’re all around you!
Panto season is about to break out across the region with a wide range of Christmas productions to tickle your festive fancy.
Worthing is set to be a panto stronghold boasting two great shows.
Jack Frost’s Frozen Christmas is one of two festive treats in the town, promising a Christmas musical spectacular from December 12-January 1 at the Pavilion Theatre.
The sequel to Santa Claus – The Musical, the show comes billed as another snow-capped adventure to the North Pole with a cast of new, colourful characters joined by familiar festive faces.
Santa and his elves are preparing for Christmas, but the out-cast Jack Frost, who has been frozen in the ice for the past 20 years since the Ice Queen’s demise, begins to thaw and plot his revenge on Santa.
The show stars Marcus Collins (The X Factor) as Billy and Richard David-Caine (CBeebies) as Jack Frost.
“It’s great because you remember that for so many children it is the first time that they ever go into a theatre,” says Marcus.
“The first time I ever went into a theatre was for a panto, and I just loved it. It made a big impression on me because it evoked so many positive emotions.
“I followed the storyline and fell in love with the theatre. I used to go with the cubs and the scouts, and I was always the first one that wanted to get involved.
“I just wanted to be part of it. I didn’t realise that I was preparing myself for my future career.”
“You have got to put in lots of energy,” adds co-star and actress Sarah Whitlock. “It’s not just about standing back and pulling faces.
“The principle is the same as for acting. It’s about being truthful. If you are a fairy godmother, you have got to have that sincerity in everything you do.
“Pantos are certainly the first opportunity that a lot of children will have to come to the theatre, and you have got to make them want to come back,” she enthuses.
“The adults chivvy them along a bit, of course, but it is lovely that they are watching something that isn’t actually on the screen, that they are seeing something with real, live people in front of them.”
The second Christmas show is the traditional pantomime Aladdin, on at the Connaught Theatre from December 5-January 4.
The producers are promising a jewel-encrusted family pantomime set to dazzle and delight on a magical ride of mystery, sparkling romance and dazzling adventure.
The cast offers Jon Lee (S Club 7) as Aladdin; Tom and Jack (Heart Breakfast) as PC Ping and PC Pong; Kieran and Sarah (Britain’s Got Talent) as the Genie of the Lamp and Slave of the Ring; Stephen Richards as Widow Twankey; Terry Gleed as Wishee Washee; and Jade Chaston as Princess Jasmine.
“It’s pure adventure, not a fairy tale or nursery rhyme,” says pop star Jon.
“The great thing about Aladdin is that he is a hero, and all the boys want to be a hero. And you have got Princess Jasmine, and all the girls want to be Princess Jasmine.
“This is my fourth pantomime,” he adds. “I have done Peter Pan and also Aladdin a few times. I am really excited.”
Meanwhile, another boy-band Aladdin will be offering festive fare to the punters in Portsmouth as Aladdin is also the Kings Theatre’s production in Southsea from December 9-January.
Antony Costa, of multi-million selling band Blue, is Aladdin; Jade Ellis from X Factor is the Genie of the Lamp; Marcus Patrick, formerly of Hollyoaks, is the Genie of the Ring; and Jack Edwards, hotfoot from Amadeus in Chichester this summer, is Abanazar.
Just along the coast, Bognor’s Regis Centre continues to build on its panto reputation following a return to panto a few years ago after a barren period. This year the delight will be Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs running from December 17-January 4.
Traditional panto pleasure is on offer at The Hawth in Crawley where the show will be Sleeping Beauty from December 12-January 4, starring TV presenter Stephen Mulhern, impressionist Hilary O’Neil and children’s favourite Cat Sandion (CBeebies).
“I love doing panto,” says Cat. “When you get into the run, there is nothing quite like it. It’s so much fun. It is just about entertaining.”
“This is my 15th consecutive panto, and I just absolutely love it,” adds Stephen Mulhern. “If you didn’t, you just wouldn’t be able to do it. It would show through.
“I remember the first panto I went to (in East London) was when I was eight or nine. I remember it so well, and you have to think that for many of the children that are seeing it, it is their first time in the theatre. That’s why it is so important that you get it right.”
Sleeping Beauty is also the show at Shoreham’s Ropetackle from December 21-31.
Tom Beard (last years’ silly Abanazar) returns to the venue, with some magical dragon action and the cream of Shoreham’s very own local children’s talent.
Plus, fresh from the live O2 Monty Python shows, Carol Cleveland stars as evil Queen Maleficent who will stop at nothing to rule the Kingdom Of Nod.
“I am delighted to be back doing panto,” says Carol. “I have done lots of panto in the past In the days when I had the legs for it, I used to be the principal boy. After that, I moved on to play the fairies, which I loved because there is so much more that you can do with them. I made my fairies a bit forgetful and a bit ditzy, but now finally I am playing wicked, which I always wanted to do. You can really put yourself into it.”
Meanwhile, Cinderella will be the show at The Capitol, Horsham from December 11-January 4 where Any Dream Will Do star Keith Jack leads the cast.
Producers are promising a show ‘filled with glitter and glamour, wands and wishes not to mention a pair of wicked and ugly stepsisters in a truly magical staging of the beautiful rags-to-riches fairy tale.’
Across the border in Surrey, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is the panto this year at Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud, Theatre from December 5-January 4, featuring Comedy Store Player and Whose Line is it Anyway? legend Josie Lawrence as the Wicked Queen.
Kit Hesketh-Harvey returns to Guildford to play the Queen’s wayward aide, Herman the Henchman, and Surrey and Hampshire breakfast show host, Eagle Radio’s Peter Gordon plays nifty, neighbourly Nursey Nora.
Last but not least is Cinderella at Southampton’s Mayflower from December 13-January 4.
Comedian, television presenter and musical theatre star Brian Conley returns to Southampton as Buttons, joined by fashion expert, award-winning television presenter and author Gok Wan as The Fairy Gokmother, offering helpful style tips to the Ugly Sisters and creating the most magical ball gown in panto-land.
Once again, Chichester Festival Theatre and the Theatre Royal Brighton rise above/resist the panto melee.
Chichester is handing over its main-house stage to the members of Chichester Festival Youth Theatre who this year will present Dodie Smith’s The Hundred And One Dalmatians in a new adaptation by Bryony Lavery from December 20-January 3.
Pongo and Missis Pongo, an adorable couple of canines, are fortunate enough to own Mr and Mrs Dearly, an adorable couple of humans.
The excitement in the household can hardly be contained when Pongo and Missis become the proud parents of 15 adorable Dalmatian puppies. Then along comes Cruella De Vil, the nastiest, cruellest villainess…
The show will be directed by CFYT director Dale Rooks whose productions include The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2011) and The Firework-Maker’s Daughter (2010).
Meanwhile, Brighton Theatre Royal is offering a show with plenty of slapstick, panto elements, with One Man, Two Guvnors at the venue from December 16-January 4.
The National Theatre’s award-winning comedy is a glorious celebration of British comedy – a unique, laugh-out-loud mix of satire, songs, slapstick and glittering one-liners.
Fired from his skiffle band, Francis Henshall becomes minder to Roscoe Crabbe. But Roscoe is really Rachel, posing as her own dead brother who’s been killed by her boyfriend Stanley Stubbers.
Francis spots the chance of an extra meal ticket and takes a job with one Stanley Stubbers, but to prevent discovery, he must keep his two guvnors apart. Simple.
“The National has taken this old play and adapted it so refreshingly,” says actress Emma Barton, who plays the character Dolly.
“There are such wonderful lines where you hear them and then take two beats before you realise what has been said.
“It’s set in 1963, and there is just such a lovely cheekiness to it, the sort of Carry On-style humour, the ‘Oooh errr, Missus!’ type comedy.
“It is just very, very funny.”
Jack Frost’s Frozen Christmas, Pavilion Theatre, Worthing, 01903 206206
Aladdin, Connaught Theatre, Worthing, 01903 206206
Aladdin, King’s Theatre, Southsea, 023 9282 8282
Sleeping Beauty, The Hawth, Crawley 01293 55363
Sleeping Beauty, Ropetackle Arts Centre, Shoreham, 01273 464440
Cinderella, Capitol Theatre, Horsham, 01403 750220
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford, 01483 440000
Cinderella, Mayflower Theatre, Southampton, 02380 711811
101 Dalmatians, Chichester Festival Theatre, Chichester, 01243 781312
One man, Two guvnors, Brighton Theatre Royal, Brighton, 0844 871 7627
December 5, 2014 Culture and Events