Guide to Norfolk’s best pantos and Christmas shows
Outlandish plots, corny jokes and soap stars in tights, pantos are a Christmas family tradition - and there are plenty of alternatives too. SIMON PARKIN previews the best festive family shows - oh yes he does!
THE TIGER WHO CAME TO TEA
Norwich Playhouse, December 7-9, Fri 10.30am/1pm, Sat-Sun 11am/1.30pm, �11, 01603 598598, www.norwichplayhouse.co.uk
Adapting popular children's picture books is a risky business — get the look wrong and you risk disenchanting a room full of kids for whom every line of the original illustrations is imprinted on the memory. Thankfully here we're in the hands of a master.
David Wood OBE is undisputedly the country's leading writer and director of plays and musicals for children. His many successes have included adaptations of Fantastic Mr Fox, The Gingerbread Man, BFG, The Witches, Meg and Mog, Spot and Babe the Sheep Pig.
Another of his triumphs is this staging, including songs and lyrics, of the beloved the picture book written and illustrated by Judith Kerr.
The doorbell rings just as Sophie and her mummy are sitting down to tea. Who could it possibly be? What they certainly don't expect to see at the door is a big, stripy tiger. A pre-Christmas treat packed with oodles of magic, sing-a-long songs and clumsy chaos.
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Kings Lynn Corn Exchange, December 7-31, �17.50-�15.50, �58 family, www.kingslynncornexchange.co.uk
It's turning in to a Christmas tradition. Following in the footsteps of John 'Nasty Nick' Altman and Letitia Dean, another former Albert Square resident, Todd Carty, is heading the cast of this year's King's Lynn Corn Exchange panto.
Grange Hill and EastEnders star Todd Carty is the evil Abanazar desperate to steal the magic lamp. Get set to hiss and boo. 'I prefer the villainous roles. You can have so much fun and I love to be hated,' he says.
Todd is looking forward to Christmas in Norfolk. 'I have been to Great Yarmouth, and to Norwich, on tour with Spamalot, but never to King's Lynn before.'
For many youngsters, a visit to the panto is their first experience of theatre – and Todd vividly remembers his. 'The first panto I saw was Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves – my mum was playing one of the slave girls!'
Also in the cast once more is Ian Marr as Widow Twankey. He's directing this year's show once more and promising masses of singing and dancing, lots of giggles and a fabulous set.
Watch out for that magic carpet ride too!
JACK AND THE BEANSTALK
Sheringham Little Theatre, until January 5, �16.50-�15.50, �11.50-�10.50 under-16s, �52-�48 family, 01263 822347, www.sheringhamlittletheatre.com
Sheringham Little Theatre is well known for pulling out all the stops for its shows and this year's panto is set to be one of the best yet. Full of surprises, singing, dancing, professionals including Russel Hicken as Dame Molly Coddle and young performers, it's been written by Killian Donnelly, who plays Raoul in Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera.
Glorious sunshine or even light snow – whatever the weather the show will also boast BBC weather girl and television presenter Julie Reinger. Having previously appeared in the Sheringham pantomime Beauty and the Beast in 2004 when she played Fairy Kindheart, she is back again this year.
'I am delighted to be involved in the Little Theatre's show again, albeit in a cameo role this time!' she said. Written and co-directed by West End star Killian Donnelly, Jack and the Beanstalk is packed with singing, dancing and jolly panto japes, as well as a number of ingenious surprises.
CHRISTMAS SEASIDE SPECIAL
Pavilion Theatre, Cromer Pier, until December 30, 2pm-7pm, �19.50-�10, children free (subject to conditions), 01263 512495, www.cromer-pier.com
Now in its eighth year, Cromer Pier's Christmas Seaside Special is a traditional spectacle for all the family guaranteed to fill you with sparkle and festive cheer. This year's show continues the feel good factor of the past year with inspiration taken from the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Celebrations and the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Norfolk comedian Olly Day is back for his fourth successive show. Joining him this year will be comedienne Jo Little. Also returning is singer Lulu Alexandra, joined by Cromer-based male vocalist Eddie Bushell. As ever the show combines big production numbers featuring well known Christmas songs such as Happy Holiday, Walking in a Winter Wonderland and It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas but also has a string quartet, a choir and children from Cromer's very own Marlene's School of Dancing. And Christmas Seaside Special would not be complete without the Seaside Special Dancers who always delight with their energetic routines. Show times are 2pm and 7pm but vary, so check listings.
Gorleston Pavilion Theatre, December 12-January 5, �12.50 (�10 cons), under-15s �9, �40 family, www.gorlestonpavilion.co.uk
Mother Goose is in danger of having to leave home because she cannot pay the rent. Luckily, just in time, along comes a new friend, the goose who lays the golden eggs.
One of the oldest pantomime stories brought to the Gorleston stage with a cast including Emmerdale's Tony Howes, Radio Norfolk's Helen McDermott and the June Glennie School of Dance.
Gorleston's Pavilion Theatre's show reunites two former Anglia TV presenters who get together again, this time to share the limelight with a big bird.
Actor Paul Lavers was one of the first 'through the night' presenters for Anglia TV in the 1980s joining Helen McDermott on the station. 'It will be fun working with Paul again after all these years,' said Helen. 'We're both a couple of show-offs, but I would think we're likely to be up-staged by Priscilla this year — she's one big bossy bird.'
Holkham Hall, December 15-16, �12, �8 children, 01328 713111, www.holkham.co.uk
The magical setting of Holkham Hall's Marble Hall will be dressed for Christmas to provide the perfect backdrop for two Christmas plays performed by Rain or Shine Theatre Company.
Mole's Christmas (Dec 15) sees Wind in the Willows kindly Mole holding a Christmas party to celebrate the anniversary of the Battle of Toad Hall. The get-together sees him joined Mole, Ratty, Badger, Otter and a host of other colourful characters, not forgetting of course the irrepressible Toad!
Charles Dickens' classic tale of greed, awareness and redemption A Christmas Carol (Dec 16) has the miser Ebenezer Scrooge and the ghostly visitations who appear before him. Set in Victorian costume with a cast of five and surprises throughout, it promises to be a festive treat.
CHRISTMAS SPECTACULAR CIRCUS & WATER SHOW
Hippodrome, St George's Road, Great Yarmouth, December 15-January 13, �19-�13 (�15 cons), �12.50-�10 under-14s, 01493 844172, www.hippodromecircus.co.uk
Yarmouth Hippodrome celebrates its 12th Christmas Spectacular with dancers, tumblers, exciting acts, and the return of the dare-devil Globe of Death bikers from Bulgaria performing hair-raising stunts.
A huge steel cage will feature amazing riders who perform hair-raising stunts that look impossibly dangerous.
This act was the hit of the WOW Factor Summer 2011 Circus and returns for this all new 2012 celebration special edition of the Christmas show.
Jack Jay and Mexican clown favourite Alonso also return for the Christmas season, which has become a new Norfolk tradition and an exciting alternative to the family panto. As well as the water spectacular, synchronised swimmers, fountains, the show features the world's greatest circus artists, including trapeze, jugglers, acrobats and aerialists, plus the children from Dance Estelle and the Chermond Circus School in Norwich.
Circus boss Peter Jay said: 'Pre-booked tickets are already at an all-time high so we're expecting a bumper Christmas season – the Christmas Spectacular featuring the globe will be our biggest and most sensational presentation ever – together with big Christmassy numbers – aerialists, dancers, swimmers, acrobats and more – don't miss it.'
JACK AND THE BEANSTALK
St George's Theatre, Great Yarmouth, December 15, �8 (�6 cons), 01493 331484, www.stgeorgestheatre.com
The local young people of the Dragon's Stage School bring their fifth annual pantomime to St George's Theatre for one night only. A true family show with all your favourite characters, more than 40 cast members and masses of musical hits from the 1970s and 80s.
Norwich Theatre Royal, December 18-January 19, 01603 630000, www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk
Graham Cole, for 20 years the gentle giant PC Tony Stamp on ITV's The Bill has a sharp change of personality here playing the villainous Abanaza against Lucy Dixon's Aladdin. She is presently better known as Tilly Evans, the student with a tangled love-life in Hollyoaks.
Richard Gauntlett, who writes and directs the show, brings his traditional blend of slapstick fun to the show, this time as Widow Twanky. It is his 12th Norwich panto.
Also returning is former TV Gladiator Nick Aldis. He was evil henchman Igor in Snow White and this time plays the Genie of the Lamp. Two other names are back, comedian Andrew Vincent, who renews his crazy partnership with Richard Gauntlett, and Steve Edwin from Holby City and children's TV hit M.I. High. He's playing the policeman and Zoe Clarke is the princess.
THURSFORD CHRISTMAS SPECTACULAR
Thursford Collection, Thursford, near Fakenham, until December 23, 2pm/7pm, �36-�29 (Sat/Sunday shows in December �2 extra per seat), 01328 878477, www.thursford.com
What involves 17 dancing monkeys, 18 screaming can-can girls and a talking Christmas pudding? It could only be the Thursford Christmas Spectacular, now in its 36th year. What started as a Christmas carol concert featuring eight singers performing to a crowd of about 530 people in an old farm shed is now regarded to be the biggest Christmas show in England, possibly Europe. It attracts around 130,000 people each year.
John Cushing, the show's founder, chief executive, director and producer, said: 'This is our most expensive production ever.'
Audience will be entertained by an ensemble of more than 120 people performing festive dance, song and comedy. Each show is a pageant of spectacle and colour – the music a seamless transition from an up-beat dance routine to a choral rendition of a Christmas carol.
Marina Theatre, Lowestoft, December 18-January 6, �18.50-�7, 01502 533200, marinatheatre.co.uk
Aladdin really is a favourite for our region this Christmas and there's another chance to join the magical world at Lowestoft too. A mystical show from award-winning producers Paul Holman Associates brings the wonderful Aladdin, the superhero genie, the beautiufl princess, our favourite dame Widow Twankey and of course the nasty one of the ngiht, Abanazar.
Known by millions as Coronation Street's wide boy Terry Duckworth, Nigel Pivaro will be leaving a trail of menace and meanness here as the wicked Abanaza.
Show producer Paul Holman said: 'He's the archetypical soap baddie. Nigel has appeared in lots of stage shows and in panto he always whips audiences up into a barrage of boos. He's the villain everyone loves to hate.'
THE RAILWAY CHILDREN
Maddermarket Theatre, Norwich, December 19-January 5, �14-�10, 01603 620917, www.maddermarket.co.uk
Roberta, Peter and Phyllis are forced to move from London when their father is taken away from them in mysterious circumstances. Building a new life with their mother in the country, the children meet new friends and find exciting places to play, especially the railway station.
This is an imaginative staging in which the two girls and their brother recall their childhood. Mike Kenny's beautiful adaptation is creatively inventive while remaining faithful to E Nesbit's touching 1906 children's story and is a great alternative to pantomime.
THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE
The Atrium, North Walsham High School, December 19-22, �10 (�7 cons), �30 family, 01692 400080, www.theatrium.org.uk
Four young evacuees stumble upon the enchanted wardrobe and step into the magical world of Narnia where it always snows and Christmas never comes. Soon our heroes discover they hold the key to hope for all the talking animals that have survived the curse. This new version of the much-loved classic from C.S. Lewis is North Walsham's own Christmas show.
Norwich Puppet Theatre, December 22-January 5, �7.50 (�6 cons), �5.50 children, �22 family, 01603 629921, www.puppettheatre.co.uk
A roguish soldier acquires a tinderbox, which gives him the power to magically summon three extraordinary dogs to do his bidding. The dogs bring him riches beyond his wildest dreams, but his fortunes quickly take a turn for the worst. Watch the soldier's remarkable roller-coaster adventure reach dizzy heights and plunge dark depths; will he survive and win the love of the beautiful princess?
The Tinderbox is a captivating and visually inventive retelling of the classic Hans Andersen tale, which has been especially created by Norwich Puppet Theatre for this Christmas. The show is suitable for families and children of four and above, and is told using a scintillating mix of puppetry and animation with an evocative soundscape.
Fisher Theatre, Broad Street, Bungay, December 22-January 1, �11 (�10 cons), 01986 897130, www.fishertheatre.org
Powerful sorceress Vestra wasn't invited to baby Aurora's big party and she's really rather upset. The gatecrashing fairy casts a wicked spell and all latecomer Fairy Nuff can do is lessen the impact and wish her a 100 year's sleep. Who will wake her? Lots of singing, dancing, jokes and music in this well loved theatre's always popular pantomine.
Norwich Puppet Theatre, December 26-January 5, �7.50 (�6 cons), �5.50 children, �22 family, 01603 629921, www.puppettheatre.co.uk
When the Pied Piper plays his flute the rats run, the greedy mayor rubs his hands and the children dance in the Puppet Theatre's popular show which returns this Christmas. The humorous and irresistible one person show combines a skilful mix of puppetry, foot-tapping live music and storytelling.
ROBINSON CRUSOE AND THE PIRATES
Memorial Hall, Dereham, December 29-January 5, �12 (�10 cons), 01362 691569, www.dosoc.co.uk
Dereham Theatre Company has it all going on for this swashbuckling tale. It's a story of bravery and disaster from sinking ships to the dastardly deeds of Davy Jones. Then, of course, there are the cannibals on a remote island and can they really work out that treasure map. As you'd expect, they'll be plenty of pirates, songs, giggles, fun, great costumes and dancing.
Carnegie Room, Cage Lane, Thetford, January 10-12, �6 (�4 cons), �4 children, 01842 751975, www.thetfordplayers.co.uk
Just in case you can't get enough Aladdin, here's another chance to catch it. Following their successful Cinderella last year, the Thetford Players take on Aladdin, Jasmine, The Emperor Nah Sty Pong, Twanky and all our other favourites in the panto written by Bob Waple, Thetford Players' chairman and the co-writer of Cinderella.
Cast and audiences will this year be enjoying the new full house sound system, additional LED stage lighting as part of the improvements to the popular venue.
Corn Hall, Diss, January 16-19, �9-�8, 01379 652241, www.mereplayers.co.uk
Bring out those Teddy Boy haircuts and circle skirts and get ready to bop along to the sounds of the 1960s. Cindy-Ella is the traditional Cinderella story – set in 1960s America. Enjoy the nasty Ugly Sisters, the magic mice, the horrible step mother, the prince and more jokes than you can imagine, all given a twist of 1960s flare.
There's a score of 60s-style numbers created especially for the pantomime that thinks it's a musical with bags of feel good factor for all the family.