fri 03/02/2023

Christmas shows 2022 round-up - panto is properly back | reviews, news & interviews

Christmas shows 2022 round-up - panto is properly back

Christmas shows 2022 round-up - panto is properly back

Glittery stars and local heroes

Ore Oduba is the charming Prince Michael in Sleeping Beauty at the Marlowe TheatrePamela Raith

What joy it is to have pantomime and Christmas shows back with full audiences up and down the country – everything from local shows to star-driven productions, many of them postponed from 2020 but with an awful lot happening in between to provide the topical references.

Two star-driven shows lead the panto pack in London: it's great to see Ian McKellen back as the Dame in Mother Goose at the Duke of York's, while Julian Clary is The Spirit of the Beans in Jack and the Beanstalk (*****) at the London Palladium until 15 January.

Clary, as you might expect, wrings every double entendre possible out of Michael Harrison's script, but the show is more family-friendly than in previous years. With great spectacle and song-and-dance numbers, it nods to the variety shows the Palladium was once famous for, but there are enough panto scenes and silly comedy to keep children entertained.

Clary has his unofficial repertory company – Gary Wilmot as the Queen, ventriloquist Paul Zerdin as Silly Simon and Nigel Havers as the King – aiding and abetting the comedy, while Dawn French rejoins the gang as Dame Trot and Alexandra Burke makes her pantomime debut as the baddie Mrs Blunderbore, more than holding her own – it's catching – in this company.

No less starry is Clive Rowe, who dons frocks and false bosoms as the Dame in Mother Goose (***) at the Hackney Empire until 31 Dec. He shows off his magnificent singing voice in a production that has elements of traditional panto and musical theatre, and also pays homage to some of the stars of the Empire yesteryear. The script could do with a few more gags but Rowe is always good value, while Kat B, another Empire favourite, gives great support as Billy Goose.

The producers of Sleeping Beauty (****) at the Marlowe Theatre until 8 January manage to pull off the difficult trick of creating a pantomime with a real connection to a local audience but touched with West End magic. Former Strictly Come Dancing winner Ore Oduba is Prince Michael and Carrie Hope Fletcher (making her panto debut) is the baddie Carrie-bosse (a neat joke, that) provide the stardust, but the terrific script by Paul Hendy is the real star.

Local references abound, while Canterbury favourite Ben Roddy steals scenes as Nurse Nellie, ably supported by Max Fulham as Jangles (plus monkey puppet Gordon) and Jennie Dale asa Fairy Moonbeam.

Jude Christian and Sonia Jalaly's sparkling script for Jack and the Beanstalk (****) at Lyric Hammersmith until 7 January has, thankfully, cut back on the political content of previous years and instead provides the narrative for a wonderfully good-hearted show.

It's set in Dame Trott’s World of Milk, but the family business is threatened wth closure because they can't pay Fleshcreep's (Jodie Jacob) gouging taxes. But after Jack (Leah St Luce giving real oomph to the part) sells beloved cow Daisy for a can of baked beans, secret fairy godmother Jill (Maddison Bulleyment, providing the show's moral heart) comes to the rescue. There are lots of musical numbers and audience interaction, much of it cheerily marshalled by Finlay McGuigan as Simon.

Eschewing panto for a revival of local favourite Nativity! The Musical is Birmingham Rep until 7 January, written and directed by Coventry native Debbie Isitt and set in her hometown. It's a sentimental but often very funny look at the kind of shows she appeared in as a child, and tells a heartwarming story of love and redemption in which the large cast of children manage to be both impossibly cute and incredibly talented.

Set in the working-class St Bernadette's primary school, where Mr Maddens (Billy Roberts), “helped” by enthusiastic classroom assistant Mr Poppy (Ben Lancaster), has been tasked with producing this year's Nativity but has few of the facilities available to his former friend and love rival Mr Shakespeare (Matthew Rowland), who teaches at Oakmoor, a posh prep school nearby.

There are trials and tribulations until Mr Maddens eventually wins the day – with a spectacular show within a show – and wins back the heart of ex-girlfriend Jennifer (Daisy Steere).

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