Only xxx days to Christmas, and the pantomime season is approaching apace. If you want the best view on the night of your choice, you need to book up quickly.
This year I am counting the traditional pantomimes as those which have dames (quixotically, female principal boys are a thing of the past in these days of gender blindness.)
The most popular story this year is the rags-to-riches favourite, Dick Whittington. He’s the boy who left the village where he lived (originally in Lancashire, but usually transported to some place in the country near where the pantomime is being performed.) His story is very loosely based in fact, as Sir Richard Whittington DID become Lord Mayor of London, in th 1380s. It was first performed as a panto in 1814, by the still famous Joseph Grimaldi.
Now it’s all about Dick, walking to London to find his fortune with his faithful cat, finding employment with a City Alderman, falling in love with his daughter, being falsely accused of theft, stowing away on a ship, and ridding the city of a plague of rats. Lots of hissing and booing as King Rat gets his come-uppance in this ever popular panto tale of good triumphing over evil and love winning through in the end.
You can see it at Plymouth Theatre Royal, Poole Lighthouse, Southampton Mayflower and Weymouth Pavilion.
The most popular pantomime of all is Cinderella, in which a motherless child suffers at the hand of her stepmother and stepsisters, but meets the man of her dreams, who turns out to be a prince, and, aided by her one true friend, makes a spectacular entrance at the Royal Ball. Just the thing in this year of Royal weddings, and on at Bristol Hippodrome and Wimborne Tivoli.
Other traditional pantomimes are Aladdin, in which an idle boy with big dreams falls for a forbidden princess, is duped by a wicked man posing as his uncle, is helped by a couple of supernatural goodies, and saves the day. See it at Yeovil Octagon.
Exeter Northcott has Jack and the Beanstalk, in which a truculent teenager finally gets his act together and decided to take on the giant who lives in the clouds above the village and terrifies the villagers. With the aid of a magic beanstalk, a hen that lays golden eggs and a magic harp, our Jack wins through.
Sleeping Beauty, at Bournemouth Pavilion, and Peter Pan at Bath, are regular Christmas shows, but not really pantomimes. The first, based on a story collected by Perrault, is about a king and queen who inadvertently offended a wicked fairy, and she took out her vengeance on their long awaited child, cursing the infant to die when she pricked her finger on a spinning wheel. Her good fairy sisters reduced the curse to a long sleep, and, sure enough, the princess found the last spinning wheel in the land, pricked her finger and fell asleep – as did everyone else in the royal court. She could only be revived by the kiss of a prince (difficult story to pull off in these #metoo days!).
Peter Pan is JM Barrie’s immortal tale of the boy who wouldn’t grow up, and the Darling family and their dog Nana. Thow in some dastardly pirates, a ticking crocodile, some Native Americans and the Lost Boys, as well as a chance to fly all round the theatre. Always a hit with the family.
There are five more familiar tales on stage this Christmas – the Scarlet Pimpernel at Bath’s eggs, the Nutcracker at Frome Merlin, Beauty and the Beast at Salisbury Playhouse, A Christmas Carol at Bristol Old Vic and Rumpelstiltskin on tour with Bumblefly. They all have their origins in collections of fairy stories, and lend themselves to the audience participation and goodie-baddie fight that ends up as a moral tale for the family. The Old Vic show always takes an inventive and different look at its subject, so look out for a fresh light on Charles Dickens’ story of Scrooge and his change of heart.
Then there are new shows, among them ones aimed at the very youngest members of the audience. These are Humbug the Hedgehog Who Couldn’t Sleep at Southampton Nuffield, a return by popular demand of the delightful Snow Mouse at Bath egg, and Beasty Baby at Bristol Tobacco Factory.
The main show at the Tobacco Factory is The Borrowers, based on Mary Norton’s children’s novel, with David Walliams’ new show, Billionaire Boy at Southampton’s new Nuffield City venue, and Shesus and the Sistas at the Tobacco Factory studio.
This is the time when “something for everyone” really isn’t a cliche´.