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Panto News: February 2012

Published: 10 February 2012
Reporter: Simon Sladen

Earlier this month, panto season 2011 came to a close when Robin Hood at the Alhambra Theatre, Bradford played its final performances on 5th February. But in Pantoland, there’s never time to rest and preparations for this year’s season are already well under way.

Bradford’s Robin Hood may well have been the last to close, but it certainly was not the longest running pantomime of the season—that accolade goes to the New Wolsey, Ipswich, whose Robin Hood ran for nine and a half weeks. However, the award for the most panto performances of the season is awarded to the Gordon Craig Theatre in Stevenage, where Beauty and the Beast was performed a staggering 96 times between 26th November 2011 and 22nd January 2012.

Since the BBC’s Robin Hood series of 2006, the medieval tale of men in tights has enjoyed somewhat of a resurgence. 2012 will see the title performed at the Greenwich Theatre, Nottingham Playhouse and York Theatre Royal. These three producing theatres are known throughout the land for their pantomime pedigree and at York, Berwick Kaler will write, co-direct and appear in his 34th pantomime for the venue, whilst at Nottingham Kenneth Alan Taylor makes a welcome return as Dame in his 29th pantomime for the theatre. The season will also mark Andrew Pollard’s 7th year at Greenwich and his first Robin Hood, who at York will be joined by Berwick Kaler as his Merry Mam!

Another pantomime title to have fallen back into favour thanks to Johnny Depp and the Pirates of the Caribbean is Robinson Crusoe, with productions seen in Glasgow, Cornwall and Cardiff last season. 2012 will see the title produced at one of the largest theatres in the country. The Birmingham Hippodrome’s Robinson Crusoe and the Caribbean Pirates will see Brian Conley in the title role having appeared at the theatre as Buttons in 2011’s Cinderella.

Qdos Pantomimes, producers of the Hippodrome panto, have already announced a number of other headlining stars for their up-coming season. 2012 will see Christopher Biggins appear as Sarah the Cook at the Plymouth Theatre Royal, Craig Revel Horwood as the Wicked Queen at the Wycombe Swan, Keith Chegwin as Silly Billy in the Wyvern Theatre, Swindon’s Jack and the Beanstalk and Joe Pasquale as Muddles in New Theatre, Cardiff’s Sleeping Beauty. Clive Webb, Danny Adams and Chris Hayward are also set to return for their 6th year together in the Newcastle Theatre Royal’s Aladdin, the title that brought them together for the first time back in 2007.

Like Qdos, producers Imagine Theatre and Paul Holman Associates have also announced their 2012 seasons. Imagine Theatre will be producing two Beauty and the Beasts, two Sleeping Beauties, two Snow Whites, one Cinderella, one Mother Goose, one Jack and the Beanstalk and one Dick Whittington, whilst Paul Holman Associates have so far announced two productions of Beauty and the Beast, Peter Pan and Cinderella and one production of Sleeping Beauty and Jack and the Beanstalk. Although both Paul Holman Associates and Imagine Theatre are, at present, only producing one Jack and the Beanstalk each, Imagine Theatre believe the title will be the season’s most popular, with its extensive stock of beanstalk related props, costumes and scenery already nearly fully booked for the season ahead.

Venues playing host to Jack and the Beanstalk this year include The Woodsville Halls, Gravesend (Imagine Theatre), Wolverhampton Grand (Qdos), New Theatre, Hull (Qdos) and The Carriageworks, Leeds (Paul Holman Associates) with the Theatre Royal, Stratford East, Queens Theatre, Hornchurch, Southhill Park, Bracknell, Theatre Royal, Windsor and Harrogate Theatre each presenting their own versions of the much loved tale.

In the year of the London Mayoral Elections and Olympics, script writers have an easy task of making sure Dick Whittington is full of contemporary cultural allusions. The Courtyard, Hereford have announced the title as their 2012 panto, whilst at The Lincoln Theatre Royal Cannon and Ball return to appear in their fourth pantomime at the venue and sixth Dick Whittington.

But whereas 2011 saw Cannon and Ball don frocks to play the Ugly Sisters for the first time, 2012 will see one of the country’s leading Dames hang up his skirts as Sheffield’s resident cross dressed Damsel Damian Williams takes on the role of Buttons in Evolution Productions’ Cinderella at the Lyceum. Evolution Productions have also announced they will be presenting Sleeping Beauty at the Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury, Aladdin at the Alban Arena, St Albans and two further Jack and the Beanstalks at the Fairfield Halls, Croydon and Theatre Severn, Shrewsbury. They will also be producing at the Octagon Theatre, Yeovil for the first time.

Having already taken £20,000 in less than 24 hours when booking for the season opened on 26th November 2011, the Oldham Coliseum’s Cinderella looks set to be another record breaker for the venue. Ticket sales are equally as strong for the Theatre Royal, Norwich’s panto where Richard Gauntlet will return to write, direct and play Widow Twankey in Aladdin from 18th December 2012 to 19th January 2013. Aladdin is also the chosen title for pantomimes at the Hall for Cornwall, Truro, Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, the Bristol Hippodrome, Richmond Theatre and the Stag Theatre, Sevenoaks, where regular double act Robert Pearce and Ant Payne will return for their fourth pantomime season at the venue as Dame and Comic.

Having produced their first pantomime for the Churchill Theatre, Bromley last year, UK Productions return to the Kent venue with Peter Pan in 2012, whilst their Snow White makes its way to Basingstoke’s Anvil Theatre. Snow White is also the chosen title for Horsham’s Capitol Theatre and First Family Entertainment (FFE) productions at the Milton Keynes Theatre and New Wimbledon Theatre. FFE have also announced that their version of Peter Pan will fly into the Waterside Theatre, Aylesbury, whilst Sleeping Beauty is set to wheel her way into the New Victoria, Woking. New Pantomime Productions will also be producing Sleeping Beauty at the Grand Opera House, York, whilst Edmonton’s Millfield Arts Centre will stage Mother Goose for the first time.

Other regional theatres to have announced their 2012 titles include the Princes Hall, Aldershot, where Beauty and the Beast will run from 7th – 30th December, and the Theatre Royal, Bury St.Edmunds, who are set to produce brand new pantomime title Rapunzel and the Rascal Prince, hot off the heels of Disney’s Tangled.

Further title and casting information will be released over the coming months and will be reported here on a monthly basis. With panto season 2011 behind us—here’s to 2012!