Guide to Norfolk’s best Christmas shows
There is nothing more traditional than a great family Christmas show and Norfolk is spoilt for choice with pantos this year. SIMON PARKIN offers the ultimate guide to what's on (oh yes he does!)
Norwich Theatre Royal, December 14 to January 15, �19-�5, under-3s free, 01603 630000, www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk
One of the theatrical highlights of the year is always the Norwich Theatre Royal pantomime — and this year its one of the most traditional favourites Sleeping Beauty.
Dancing On Ice and Emmerdale star Hayley Tamaddon is playing Sleeping Beauty. She was last seen on the Norwich Theatre Royal stage in Spamalot in 2010 winning rave reviews for her performance and stunning singing voice.
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Joining her in the cast is Hollyoaks actor Kevin Sacre as Prince Valiant and veteran actress Helen Fraser — best known Sylvia 'Bodybag' Hollamby from ITV's prison melodrama Bad Girls.
And a number of favourites are back too. The panto's writer and director Richard Gauntlett is playing the dame for the 11th time, and his popular comedy side-kicks David Gant, Tom Beard and Andre Vincent, the comedy partner of Marcus Brigstocke in cult comedy Early Edition, also return.
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A CHRISTMAS CAROL
Maddermarket Theatre, December 17-January 3, �12-�8, 01603 620917, www.maddermarket.co.uk
Popular Maddermarket Theatre actor Noel Jones takes the lead role of the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge in John Mortimer's stage adaptation of Dickens' novella. The story's success in demonstrating the true spirit of Christmas led to every show being a virtual sell-out when the Maddermarket last staged this version some years ago. Dickens' tale tells of Scrooge's amazing transformation from embittered miser into generous benefactor following his eventful encounters with the ghost of his former partner, Jacob Marley and with the ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Yet to Come. His remarkable change finally guarantees a merry Christmas for the family of his honest but downtrodden clerk, Bob Cratchit, who ends up celebrating with a colossal turkey! 'It's just a rattling good story in which Dickens uses his imagination to paint some wonderfully vivid pictures,' says director Tim Seely, who revisits the show following his previous success with it. 'It was the most successful show we have ever done, and it's no surprise that it's already booking well again. It does produce a wonderful Christmasy feeling, and as well as having Noel Jones as Scrooge I am delighted to have many excellent younger actors who will really give the show plenty of energy.'
RED RIDING HOOD
Norwich Puppet Theatre, December 19-31, �7 (�5.50 cons), �5 children, �20 family, 01603 629921, www.puppettheatre.co.uk
Following the path to her grandmother's house, through a forest filled with howling wolves, Red Riding Hood needs to use her wits in order to survive. Follow our heroine into the woods and expect a rich mix of puppetry, music, song, inventive staging and witty dialogue in this brand new Norwich Puppet Theatre production designed and directed by Peter O'Rourke and funded by the Arts Council. Peter is best known for his work on Fantastic Mr Fox, The Giraffe the Pelly and Me, Alice in Wonderland and other shows at the Little Angel Theatre in Islington.
Adapted for modern times by scriptwriter Tim Kane and with music from Ben Glasstone, the show is performed by two local puppeteers, Zannie Fraser and Shane Connolly and runs for three weeks in Norwich before transferring to the Little Angel Theatre ahead of a UK tour.
JACK AND THE BEANSTALK
Marina Theatre, Lowestoft, December 10-January 2, �17.50-�6.50 (�15.50-6.50 cons), 01502 533200, www.marinatheatre.co.uk
It's East Anglia's giant pantomime — if judged on the size of its beanstalk at least. Award winning producers, Paul Holman Associates return to the Marina Theatre with another panto that promises laugh out loud comedy, music and song. Jack, the Giant, Daisy the Cow and Dame Trott will be joined by a host of colourful, creative characters in an action packed story line which will grow quicker than our magical beanstalk. Among the cast are Allo, Allo's Sue Hodge, Britain's top piano playing Dame Bobby Crush, Hi-5's Chris Edgerley, Adam Kelly and Timmy the Toucan, plus youngsters from the June Glennie School of Dance
Pavilion Theatre, Gorleston, runs until December 31, �12.50 (�10 cons), �9 children, 01493 662832, www.gorlestonpavilion.co.uk
Oh Yes It Iz Productions return once again to the Pavilion Theatre in Gorleston to stage perhaps the classic pantomine. Once again West End actor Des Barrit and popular broadcaster Helen McDermott wave their wand to bring panto magic. Barrit writes and directs the show each year, only just having time to get the opening night out of the way before heading back to London to resume the role of the Wizard in the hit musical Wicked. It's the usual mix of music, dance and corny jokes with, on this occasion, superb costumes and excellent sets from local company 3D Creations. The conjuring up of Cinderella's ball gown and horse drawn crystal coach is especially well done. There's also an intriguing love triangle on stage. When Cinderella lands her Prince Charming, Buttons will keep an especially beady eye on the royal pair – for offstage, Buttons is really Mr Cinderella. Kelly Bibb married Glyn Doggett earlier this year.
King's Lynn Corn Exchange, until January 3, �17.50-�10, �16.50-�14.50 children, 01553 764864, www.kingslynncornexchange.co.uk
The other Norfolk panto featuring the girl who shall go the ball. King's Lynn's first traditional pantomime (it's been moved this year from Hunstanton) features EastEnders' Letitia Dean and West End star Claire Fishenden in a magical extravaganza by the team behind last year's smash hit Jack and the Beanstalk. They promise live music, stunning sets, slick choreography, costumes and spectacular musical numbers. Left at home by the ugliest of sisters, Cinders can not go to the ball. However, with help from her magical Fairy Godmother and brilliant buffoonery from Buttons, the most exciting night of her life is about to begin...
Thursford Collection, Fakenham, until December 23, 2pm/7pm, �34-�24.50, 01328 878477, www.thursford.com
For many people in Norfolk and thousands of others from across the country Christmas simply wouldn't be Christmas without the Thursford Christmas Spectacular. It is now regarded as the biggest Christmas show in England, possibly Europe, with more than 130,000 people expected to flock to the tiny North Norfolk village of before the final performance December 23. The crowds will be entertained by an ensemble cast of more than 120 people performing a variety of dance, song, comedy and magic. The show, being staged for the 34th year, features 23 dancers, 56 singers, a 32-piece orchestra and 76 different pieces of music, all put together by John Cushing, the show's director, producer and founder. The calibre of performer is high. Fifteen performing in this year's show have graced the West End this year.
THE INACCURATE CONCEPTION
West Acre Theatre, River Road, Westacre, December 10-23, �12 (�8 cons), 01760 755800, www.westacretheatre.com
Westacre Theatre's unusual Christmas production is this riotous comedy by Richard Ahsam and Geoff Saunders. The plot centres on Class 3C of Verucca Street Church of England Primary School and their teacher, Miss Wibley, given the dubious honour by the headmistress, Octavia Dutton-Griggs, of creating the school Nativity play. A rag-tag bunch of seven-year-olds proves quite a handful for poor Miss Wibley, who is new to the job and who gets no help from her fellow teaching staff – rather, they go out of their way to sabotage her efforts. As she battles to cast the play to the satisfaction of all the children and their parents, the play within the production descends into chaos...
CHRISTMAS SEASIDE SPECIAL
Pavilion Theatre, Cromer Pier, until December 31, �18 (�15 cons), �9 children (8-14), �47 family, 01263 512495, www.cromer-pier.com
Now in its sixth year, Cromer Pier's Christmas Seaside Special has all the the magic of Christmas, with plenty of sparkle, laughter and high energy dance routines. Back by popular demand is Norfolk born and bred comedian Olly Day. Joining him this season is comedian Dave Mac. Enchanting vocals come from Lulu Alexandra and Dale Page. A youth choir made up of talented local students will also be appearing along with a fabulous Christmas Quartet. And the Christmas Seaside Special would not be complete without our Seaside Special Dancers who bring together their talented mix of energy, excitement and warm Christmas cheer.
Sheringham Little Theatre, until January 2, �16-�15, �11-�10 children, �50-�46 family 01263 822347, www.sheringhamlittletheatre.com
They went to London to see if the streets were paved with gold – and they came back with a top London theatre. Sheringham Little Theatre's popular panto is being supported this year by the acclaimed Lyric, in Hammersmith.
Debbie Thompson, director of the Little Theatre, admitted she was thrilled with the agreement to collaborate over family show Dick Whittington.
Following his highly acclaimed performance as Widow Twanky in Aladdin last year, the marvellous Russel Hicken returns. Once again he'll be donning a gown to give a sparkling performance as the panto dame - this year in the shape of Sarah the Cook. Aaron White also returns, in the role of Dick. As he 'turns again' to become Lord Mayor of London, he will be joined by talented newcomer, Suzanna Kempne, as Alice, and accomplished actors Jonathan Metcalf and David Davies, who play King Rat and Fitzwarren.
Hippodrome, Great Yarmouth, December 10-January 8, �19-�13, �12.50-�10 children, family tickets available, 01493 844172, www.hippodromecircus.co.uk
The Hippodrome is now in its second decade of Christmas Spectaculars. Run by the Jay family, the festive circus is full of surprises, from the death-defying acts to the incredible museum of circus artefacts behind the ring to the moment when the ring transforms into a swimming pool (it doesn't matter how many times you've seen it, it's always a delight). This year's show boasts more than 60 performers including the Athuma Zulu warriors, a 10-strong troupe of amazingly agile artistes perform their highly acclaimed act of Zulu street acrobatics; from Kazakhstan, the Trio Serik are a high-flying, death-defying troupe of aerial acrobats; English circus star Ben Coles; and the amazing Bio Brothers, a hit of the Hippodrome 2008 Summer Show. Also, as ever, young performers from Dance Estelle and the Chermond Circus School in Norwich.
MRS BOB CRATCHIT'S WILD CHRISTMAS BINGE
The Garage, Norwich, December 9-10, �8 (36.50 cons), 01603 630000, www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk
Norwich Theatre Royal's Youth Company stage a fiendishly funny comedy take on Dickens' tale of redemption, turning it firmly on its head. Scrooge's 'Bah humbug!' is an undiagnosed seasonal Tourette's Syndrome and the Ghost of Christmas is a lady with real attitude. Centre-stage is Mrs Bob Cratchit who's sick of Tiny Tim, not to mention her other 20 children, and tries to escape it all.
Bungay Fisher Theatre, December 17-January 2, �12.50 (�11.50 cons), �9.50 children, �40 family, 01986 897130, www.fishertheatre.org
Family friendly, very traditional panto at the Fisher Theatre starring Mike Wallis as Widow Twankey Clare Durrant as Aladdin Gavin Dean as Wishee Washee Dan Hanton & Chris Moore as Abanazar and Mel Sharman as The Genie. Surely you know the story to this one. This year's production is dedicated to the late Steve Ace, the popular entertainer whose larger-than-life characters entertained local audiences for decades.
DICK WHITINGTON AND HIS CAT
Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds, until January 15, 01284 769505, www.theatreroyal.org
Another Dick Whitington. With England scoured by the Black Death, young Dick Whittington arrives in London to make his fame and fortune. At first all goes well. He makes friends with a cat called Tommy, gets a job with a merchant and falls in love with a girl. But there are wicked forces at play. The evil Queen Rat and her army of ratlings still roam the city streets trying to infect everyone with the plague so that rats can take over the world.
CHARLIE AND LOLA'S BEST BESTEST PLAY
Norwich Playhouse, December 9-11, �10, 01603 598598, www.norwichplayhouse.co.uk.
Suitable for children under the age of seven, the large-scale puppet show is based on the popular children's books by Lauren Child, and was originally created for Polka Theatre in 2009. In the production, created by acclaimed theatre group Watershed, two and three dimensional worlds mingle as the audience finds out if Lola will ever tidy her room or if Charlie will get her to sleep, even though she is not sleepy and will not go to bed. Norwich actor Kevin James plays Soren Lorenson, Lola's imaginary friend.
CHRISTMAS SHOWS FURTHER AFIELD
Ipswich Wolsey: Robin Hood and the Babes in the Wood, until January 28, 01473 295900, wwwwolseytheatre.co.uk
Ipswich Wolsey Studio: Penguin (Long Nosed Puppets), until December 31, 01473 295900, www.wolseytheatre.co.uk
Ipswich Regent: The Wizard of Oz, December 17-23; Cinderella on Ice, December 27-31, 01473433100, www.ipswichregent.com
Snape Maltings: Co-op Juniors' Christmas Spectacular, December 14-21, 01728 687110,www.aldeburgh.co.uk.
Felixstowe Spa: Mother Goose, December 17-January 2, 01394 282126, www.thespapavilion.co.uk
Framlingham Headmaster Porter: Perils of Pinocchio, December 20-23 Dec, 01473 211498, www.commongroundtc .co.uk
Cambridge Arts Theatre: Cinderella, until January 15, 01223 503333, www. cambridgeartstheatre.com
Cambridge Corn Exchange: Annie The Musical, December 17-31, 01223 357851, www.cornex.co.uk