Christmas Panto Season 2014

One of pantomime's secrets of survival is its willingness to change and evolve in order to stay up-to-date and in tune with its surroundings.

One such development in recent years has been that of the Benevolent Agent. Fairies have notably been disappearing from pantomimes up and down the country as narratives choose to focus on fate and destiny without the help of any immortal intervention, but, with Gok Wan's pantomime debut as the Man in the Mirror last year, a new form of Benevolent Agent is joining Pantoland's ever-changing base of stock characters.

Just like Easter pantomimes, male Benevolent Agents are in no way new; male Genies are a prime example of this. However, aside from gay and adult pantomimes, the notion of an openly gay Benevolent Agent is a relatively recent genre progression.

Camp Genies have been seen in a many a pantomime, but Julian Clary's Fairy Godmother in Simon Nye's ITV pantomime of 2000 constiutes one of the first examples of such an interpretation of the role, playing on the Fairy / Fairy dual meaning and embracing, adopting and parodying gay stereotypes. Clary has since gone on to play the Spirit of both Bells and Beans, not forgetting Dandini, a role he reprises this year in Wolverhampton, and one that plays upon the performers' sexuality as the Prince's Aide de Campe.

This year, Gok Wan follows in Clary's footsteps playing the Fairy Gok-Mother alongside Brian Conley's Buttons in Southampton with Joe McElderry donning the sequins as the Spirit of the Mirror in Bradford alongside Alhambra regular Billy Pearce as Muddles. With the first gay marriages taking place just after midnight on Saturday 29 March, openly-gay performers in openly-gay roles is yet another example of pantomime mirroring the time and reflecting the UK's tastes, trends and ever-changing culture.

It's been a bumper month for announcements from Qdos, which alongside Clary, Wan, McElderry and Conley has also revealed Shane Richie as Dick Whittington in High Wycombe and Lee Mead as Prince Charming in Cardiff. Brendan Sheerin joins Lisa Riley in Jack and the Beanstalk in Crew, whilst Christopher Biggins plays his first Mrs Smee alongside the Hoff's Hook in Southend.

Also announced this month for the second year running was that the SECC, Glasgow's Robin Hood had been shelved in favour of Cinderella with, interestingly, John Barrowman not playing Principal Boy, but Buttons, alongside the Krankies as Zip and Baron.

Other Cinderella castings to be announced over the past month include Keth Chegwin in Basingstoke and Camilla Dallerup in Chesterfield. Antony Stuart-Hicks and Paul Leno team up as Ugly Sisters to Joe Swash's Buttons at the Harlow Playhouse whilst the Wugly Sisters make Cinderella's life hell in Horsham. Another pair of Uglies tipped to take Pantoland by storm this season are Leslie Grantham and Brian Capron in Sevenoaks, where both will appear in their first cross-dress roles alongside Neighbours' Ryan Maloney.

Fellow Ramsey Street star Alan Fletcher reprises his Sheriff of Nottingham for Magic Beans Pantomimes in Dunstable with Britain's Got Talent ventriloquist Steve Hewlitt as Silly Billy Scarlet, whilst in Windsor Kevin Cruise and Stephen Blakeley reunite for another season of fun in new title for the duo Beauty and the Beast.

The New Wolsey, Ipswich also revealed it would be producing Beauty and the Beast this season, with others theatres announcing their titles including Riverfront Arts, Newport (Dick Whittington), Hall for Cornwall, Truro (Robin Hood), Courtyard Arts, Hereford (Jack and the Beanstalk), Dorking Halls (Jack and the Beanstalk) and South Hill Park, Bracknell (Aladdin).

Further afield in California, the Pasadena Playhouse announced it will play host to Sleeping Beauty and her Winter Knight, whilst Bonnie Lythgoe, of Lythgoe Family Productions, the company behind the Playhouse's pantos, also revealed she will stage her first pantomime down-under when Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs opens at the State Theatre, Sydney starring Cliff Richard as the Mirror Enchanted.

Back in the UK, Jamie Foreman of EastEnders fame and Ben Ofuedo (Phats and Small) will play the Emperor of China and Genie of the Lamp in Gravesend, whilst in Canterbury Scott Maslen joins Ben Roddy and Phil Gallagher in Aladdin as Abanazer.

In Stoke-on-Trent, Jonathan Wilkes and Christian Patterson revive their Aylesbury Dick Whittington of 2011, with Tweedy the Clown and Neil Hurst also returning to their panto homes in Cheltenham (Sleeping Beauty) and Halifax (Jack and the Beanstalk) respectively.

Bob Golding appears in his fourth St Albans pantomime, but this time in a frock as Dame Trot alongside Steve McFadden's Fleshcreep and in Mansfield and Bridlington Vicky Entwistle and Rustie Lee both take to the stage in Sleeping Beauty.

Fellow female led narrative Snow White has been announced as Maidstone's 2014 panto with Jimmy Burton Iles returning as the Hazlitt Arts Centre's Dame, whilst in Hayes, Linda Robson has been revealed as the Wicked Queen in the Beck Theatre's production.

And finally.... congratulations are in order to two of last season's pantomimes, namely First Family Entertainment's Dick Whittington at the Manchester Opera House and Above The Stag, Vauxhall's Jack Off the Beanstalk. It is very rare that pantomimes receive prizes so congratulations to Dick Whittington for winning the Manchester Theatre Awards Best Special Entertainment and to Jack Off the Beanstalk for winning Boyz Magazine Scene Award's Best Theatre Production. Here's to many more award-winning pantomimes in the future.