It’s panto time! Oh yes it is

Cinderella takes on Robin Hood this festive season with two panto productions of each in this region. But there’s still lots more traditional fare on offer, as DAVID UPTON finds out in this regional round up

Saturday, 21st December 2013, 8:00 am
Christmas Carol at the Dukes
Christmas Carol at the Dukes


Charter Theatre, Preston

Until December 31

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If the golden slipper fits . . . why change a thing?

The outfit behind a string of successful Preston Guild Hall pantos sticks to the formula that has brought hit shows over the last few years.

Topping the bill as ever is one of Lancashire’s best known comedians and actors, Ted Robbins, who besides starring as Baron Hardup, is also director and writer and brings his experience, comic skills and energy to a production that always strives to delight audiences.

Also appearing alongside him again are comedy duo The Harper Brothers as the Ugly Sisters and Jodie Hamblet as Cinderella. Fairy Godmother is Leah Bracknell, Buttons (Tom Milner) and Prince (Phil Swift).

Box office: 0844 844 7710 or

A Christmas Carol

Dukes Theatre, Lancaster

Until January 4

By haunting Charles Dickens’ most famous Christmas story with a few of Lancaster’s own ghosts, the Dukes’ cleverly 
re-invents a classic tale.

Coronation Street scriptwriter Debbie Oates, who adapted a thoroughly entertaining Treasure Island for the theatre last year, creates her own unique take on this seasonal favourite.

And as Ebenezer Scrooge young actor Gareth Cassidy has the time of his life.

Nothing of the original morality message is lost however, and in a little over two hours it is quite remarkable how much more is added. That includes a Tiny flatulent Tim and an expectorating rodent!

A six-strong cast shoe-horn it all into a square studio space smaller than some celebrity dressing rooms.

Box office: 01524 598500 or

Peter Pan

Grand Theatre, Blackpool

Until January 5

At the moment that The Boy Who Would Never Grow Up soars into the heights of the resort’s showpiece theatre, this is a pantomime that sets the highest standards.

It’s uproarious pantomime from start to finish, as ribald or as risqué as your age group demands. From the moment Steve Royle literally drops back into his comedy fixture role, all the way through to Jordan Lee Davies’s final ascent towards the Grand’s magnificent ceiling, this is a show with a single-minded devotion to raising a laugh.

One-time Emmerdale bad boy Tom Lister positively revels in his punning Captain Hook. Likewise Hayley Kay laps up her one-liners as Mermaid and Mrs Darling, while Lee Davies suggests a nice-but-dim Pan. There’s also physical thrills from a pirate crew of Chris Gage, Tristan Adams and Alex Tucker.

Box office: 01253 290190 or


King George’s Hall, Blackburn

Until December 31

Another pantomime that believes in sticking to its winning formula.

Blackpool-based Stageworks Productions again stages East Lancashire’s biggest seasonal show for all the family. Panto favourite Phil Walker (son of Roy) stars as Buttons in the classic tale.

There’s pathos, magic, glamour, comedy wrapped around the yarn about a poor girl who finds that her shoe, and her face, fits.

It’s another show that embraces the traditions of panto but updates them to appeal to young andold.

Box office: 0844 8471664 or

Dick Whittington

Opera House, Manchester

Until January 5

Starring as Alice Fitzwarren – and her dog – are Britain’s Got Talent winners Ashleigh and Pudsey.

But this is a show almost overburdened with riches. Lancashire neighbours Jodie Prenger and Tam Ryan set the strong regional tone, aided by writer and director Eric Potts’s broad humour.

Elsewhere this panto flaunts its big budget with an underwater animated 3D film sequence, a break-dancing dwarf and a novelty sausage routine that has more fun with meat products than is probably decent. The run includes the first ‘relaxed performance’ on January 2. It is aimed at anyone who would benefit from a more relaxed environment including those with an autistic spectrum condition, sensory and communication disorders or learning disabilities.

Box office: 0844 871 3018 or

Wanted! Robin Hood

Library at the Lowry, Salford

Until January 11

This is a brand-new adaptation of the tale of the legendary archer of Sherwood Forest, but one that’s a little uncertain who it is aimed at . . .

Children’s theatre specialist Charles Way’s adaptation is directed by Amy Leach and designed by Hayley Grindle, who collaborated on last year’s award-winning production of Arabian Nights.

There’s none of that production’s coherent story-telling, however, or clarity of action. The occasional humour sits uneasily alongside the decidedly unpleasant slaying of one character or the torture of another, although combat director Renny Krupinski excels himself with the flair shown in the fighting scenes.

Box office: 0843 208 6010 or

Robin Hood

Octagon Theatre, Bolton

Until January 11

Another adaptation of the traditional tale but one which again attempts some modern framing.

Deep in Sherwood Forest three children are doing all they can to avoid the boring activities of a family camping holiday. When they find themselves transported back in time they get far more than they dreamed of when they bump into Robin Hood.

They are joined on stage by Christopher Villiers – Captain Hook in the Theatre’s previous festive production, Peter Pan – once again taking on the villainous role this time as the Sheriff of Nottingham.

Box office: 01204 520661 or

Swallows & Amazons

Theatre by the Lake, Keswick

Until January 18

What better place to set sail on the classic children’s adventure than at the theatre besides one of Lakeland’s most stunning vistas?

The story follows siblings John, Susan, Titty and Roger as they sail away in their boat Swallow to do battle on the water with the savage Amazons and then join forces to defeat the black-hearted Captain Flint.

The show also brings to life a number of birds and animals through puppetry, using similar techniques to those seen in the hit show War Horse – currently at the Lowry in Salford.

This adaptation by Helen Edmundson with songs by Neil Hannon (of The Divine Comedy), was first performed at the Bristol Old Vic in 2010 and had a successful run in the West End and a UK tour.

Box Office: 017687 74411 or

. . .and for the grown-ups

War Horse

The Lowry, Salford

Until January 18

The North West premiere of the West End hit has understandably generated box office records and if you’re not lucky enough to pick up the one or two tickets remaining then the good news is that the show is returning to the venue next summer.

The Lowry’s nine-week run of the National Theatre’s internationally acclaimed production is set to be the most successful show in the venue’s 12-year history.

It’s the powerful story of a young boy called Albert and his beloved horse, Joey, who has been requisitioned to fight for the English in the First World War.

Box Office: 0843 2086005 or

West Side Story

Palace Theatre, Manchester

Until January 4

The show that owes a considerable debt to the city since its UK premiere performance there, in 1958, started to establish its reputation. One year earlier it had opened on Broadway to less than enthusiastic reviews. Four years later the film won 10 Academy awards . . .

This production stars Katie Hall as Maria, Louis Maskell as Tony, Djalenga Scott as Anita and Jack Wilcox as Riff. Based on Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story is set on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and explores the rivalry between two teenage gangs; one white, one Puerto Rican. This production features the entire original Jerome Robbins choreography.

Box office: 0844 871 3019 or

That Day We Sang

Royal Exchange, Manchester

Until January 18

A play with music by Victoria Wood – which premiered at Manchester International Festival two years ago – returns reinvented.

It is a big-hearted and nostalgic Manchester love story for all the family, set in the summer of ’69 but harking back to events 40 years earlier and the celebrated recording of a Manchester children’s choir. It becomes a tale of two people trying to reconnect with who they were then and who they could be now.

Box Office: 0161 833 9833 or