Panto News: October 2017

Simon Sladen

Transformation is an integral aspect of any pantomime; from scenes that see beanstalks grow and pumpkins turn into carriages to the Dame appearing in a never-ending array of outfits. Change occurs everywhere. But the industry itself is also continually undergoing transformation as it evolves and in doing so survives year after year.

2017 will be the first season in over a decade in which such a grand transformation sequence has played out. First Family Entertainment is gone, Qdos Entertainment has grown and younger companies are spreading their wings and winning more and more venues.

With First Family Entertainment having firmly exited stage left, many of its key players are now working for other companies. Eric Potts will perform for Qdos in Darlington in addition to writing for Imagine Theatre's venues in Halifax and Kilmarnock, where he'll also direct. First Family Entertainment's Associate Producer Laura Taylor also joins Imagine Theatre as Head of Marketing and Business Development, having formerly worked for Qdos.

Previously Qdos loyalists, this year sees husband and wife Sam Kane and Linda Lusardi work for Imagine Theatre and Those Magic Beans. Kane hangs up his Principal Boy and Villain role to opt for that of Comic in Southport's Cinderella, where he'll also direct with Lusardi continuing her streak as one of Pantoland's finest Villains in Gravesend.

Having always championed the Dame, 2017 sees Those Magic Beans dispense with the traditional Damsel in a Dress for its Snow White in Sevenoaks, whilst previous Those Magic Beans regular Robert Pearce waves goodbye to the company and says 'Hello' to Camberley Theatre as Mrs Smee.

It's also all change in Greenwich, where resident Dame Andrew Pollard takes a year out from performing and directing but will continue to contribute the venue's script, whilst the New Wimbledon Theatre welcomes Hackney Empire regular Clive Rowe as Dame in perhaps the biggest casting coup of the season.

Dame-hopping can also be found at Loughborough Town Hall, where, due to producers Little Wolf Entertainment winning the contract for the Derby Arena, Morgan Brind leaves Loughborough to Dame it up in Derby alongside Gwen Taylor and CBeebies' Ben Faulks aka Mr Bloom in Beauty and the Beast.

Having taken a year out from Pantoland in 2016, Biggins returns to share his Twankey with Richmond, whilst Vikki Stone is warmly welcomed back to the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith as Fleshcreep in Jack and the Beanstalk for a second year of gender-bending villainy after last year's Abanazar. The Lyric's production will also embrace its second female Jack in the form of Faith Omole´╗┐ since Rochelle Rose´╗┐ took on the role in 2013.

Pantomime has always been playful with representations of gender and sexuality and 21st century Pantomime is no different. Julian Clary returns to the London Palladium to play the Spirit of the Bells in Dick Whittington alongside Lukus Alexander as Eileen the Cat, whilst Basildon welcomes what might just be the industry's first female Abanazar in the form of Sophie Ladds's Aunty Banazar at the Towngate Theatre.

Always leading the way in pantomime inventiveness, Johnny McKnight's seasonal treats include Chick Whittington at Macrobert Arts Centre, Stirling and Alice in Weegieland at the Tron, Glasgow with Dunfermline's Jack and the Beanstalk taking on a Wild West theme à la last year's in Norwich and Lincoln's Aladdin re-naming the veritable Widow Dame Donna Kebab.

With new titles and new names embracing the scene, relatively new companies KD Theatre Productions and Shone Productions continue to hold and add new venues to their portfolio. KD Theatre Productions will co-produce the Harlow Playhouse's Peter Pan whilst also taking on the Broadway Peterborough, whilst Shone Productions retains its five venues, having entered the industry with Snow White at the Middleton Arena in 2013.

Polka Dot Pantomimes continues to go from strenth to strength and become the first company to add Rapunzel to its stock of titles, whilst Parkwood Theatres equally grows in expertise having engaged the services of producer Lee Waddingham, previously of Paul Holman Associates. Parkwood Theatres now produces its pantomimes in-house, with Crawley its last venue to be staged by an external producer. Evolution Productions will produce Snow White at the Hawth Theatre this Christmas, whilst also adding the Grove Theatre, Dunstable to its portfolio.

And, whilst Easter pantos are now firmly on the calendar, Halloween pantos look set to secure the same seasonality: St Helen's Theatre Royal continues to stage its usual half term treat, Regal Entertainment's Wizard of Oz takes off on on tour, Curse of the Haunted Pirate Ship sets sail for Darlington and Nightmare on Panto Street looks set to haunt Telford.

With Halloween nearly here and November less than a month away, it won't be long before audiences are shouting "It's Behind You" and casts go into rehearsal ahead of 2017's festive season of silliness...