The EADT's 2009 panto guide

There's nothing like a dame and our stages are going to crowded with them for weeks now because it's panto time again and David Henshall will be looking at all the top shows on offer in the region in the next three weeks.

David Henshall

There's nothing like a dame and our stages are going to crowded with them for weeks now because it's panto time again and David Henshall will be looking at all the top shows on offer in the region in the next three weeks.

The biggest surprise of the season is that Julian Harries, writer and star of so many of the madhouse Eastern Angles Christmas shows at the Sir John Mills, this year turns up as the dame in the rock'n'roll Aladdin at the Ipswich Wolsey.

However, the crazy tradition continues at the John Mills with a new writer and a team dedicated to celebrating the season with a special kind of local story soaked in clever comedy. This year it is Mansfield Park and Ride which, if Jane Austen had written a novel about Suffolk life, would be nothing like this.

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Aladdin at New Wolsey - until 30 January.

Julian Harries had a resounding success at the Wolsey in the early Autumn as Guy Jones in Alan Ayckbourn's A Chorus of Disapproval and he has been dying to play a top dame for ages, so he jumped at the offer of one of the best - Widow Twankey.

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He has gone over to the opposition - but in the nicest possible way because it was an arrangement that suited both companies. He will write and strut his stuff for Angles again when called upon.

“I'm so excited because Widow Twankey is a great dame and it's going to fun playing her - but I'll need to get working on my make-up skills,” Harries laughs as he romps into his first rock panto along with director Peter Rowe's hand-picked company of actor- musicians.

Wolsey Christmas regulars will know that this means a fusion of trad panto and classic pops like I'm a Believer, I Can Help, Get Ready and Born to be Wild - 20 hits in total - all wrapped up in the razzmatazz, fun and jokes of the story of a poor boy who wins a princess - with the help of a little magic. Well, quite a lot a magic actually.

Most of the cast of 10 have appeared at the Wolsey in previous shows or pantos. Harry Myers (The Emperor) is a familiar face from Little Shop of Horrors, Beauty and the Beast and Robin Hood, as is Johnson Willis (Abanazer) who appeared in Jack and the Beanstalk, Sugar, Company and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.

Also returning are Shirley Darroch (Genie), Steve Simmons (Hans the Potwasher), Delroy Brown (Hans the Dishwasher), Gregory Clarke (Wishee Washee).

Alex Tomkins, who plays Aladdin and Francesca Loren, as Nanas the Monkey, are newcomers to Ipswich.

Mansfield Park and Ride, Sir John Mills, 2 December - 9 January.

The publicity blurb for the show adds after the title Mansfield Park and Ride … 'a long, long way after Jane Austen'. This tells you at once that nothing has changed for the Gatacre Road Christmas show and addicts can confidently expect their annual fix of foolish, fantastical fun with lashings of Regency ribaldry and a hint or two of Georgian gorgeousness.

Brendan Murray has written the show and Eastern Angles boss, Ivan Cutting directs a tale that is as bonkers as ever and may well have very little to do with a well-known novel that carries a similar title. You will witness Mrs Bonnet's efforts to marry off her three daughters; see Mr Knightly wow the ladies with his lake-drenched shirt; and be baffled by the way in which Betsy the maid pops up in almost every scene.

Six actors will be donning their best breeches and bonny hats to play all manner of unlikely people - and musical instruments. As ever, the show is loaded with local jokes. wicked word-play and daft ditties.

Greg Wagland, a Christmas regular, returns to the John Mills as does Sally Anne Burnett, from Angles' spring play, Return to Akenfield. The show moves on to the Seckford Theatre in Woodbridge at the end of January.

Jack and the Beanstalk, Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds, 4 December to 19 January.

This is one of the oldest pantos and it shares a birthday with the Theatre Royal because it was first performed in Drury Lane in 1819, the year the Bury playhouse was built. But this story is a bit different in that it takes us back to the time of King Arthur.

Here, dashing knights pursue terrifying giants, the poor peasants eat nothing but beans and almost everybody wears a mob cap. Our hero Jack and his mother Dame Trisha Trott have hit the medieval credit crunch.

Not only that, a huge beanstalk is causing no end of gardening problems and the hideous giant Gogmagog has snatched Jack's true love, Perdita - not to mention Daisy the cow. Can Jack find the courage to get them back and can the enchanting Fairy Liquid redeem the giant's awful henchman, Fleshcreep?

It could be okay because director Abigail Anderson, who had hits with Twelfth Night and Three Men in a Boat earlier this year, says, “It's a story with lots of fairy tale true love and oodles of happy-ever-afters as well as loads of puns and jokes - and an original score.”

Cinderella, Mercury, 4 December to 9 January.

This one is set in an enchanted winter wonderland sparkling with fun provided by the team who have delighted Colchester audiences for the past ten years. It is written and directed once again by Janice Dunn.

The ugly sisters and her stepmother are giving Cinders a hard time as usual but fortunately she has a rather useful fairy helping her to overcome one or two little local difficulties and, with a bit of luck, true love may finally triumph in this traditional treat geared to the whole family.

Cinderella is the world's most famous pantomime and woe betide anyone who tries to change the story. But you can fiddle with the characters a wee bit and Janice Dunn has egged the pudding by replacing the haughty, often attractive, cruel stepmother with a dame.

So now, as well as the ugly sisters, Ratula and Flatula, there's Dame Spatula - which gives the Mercury's favourite female impersonator, Tim Treslove, the opportunity to don a few outrageous frocks and raise a lot of laughs - especially as Roger Delves-Broughton is playing her husband Baron Hardup.

Janice Dunn also does a switch by having women play the ugly sisters, Shuna Snow and Christine Absalom. Clare Humphrey is Fairy Godmother with Dale Superville as Buttons and Daniel Tawse as Dandini. Elizabeth Brown has the title role and Ian Kendall is the glass-slipper Prince who can't wait to fondle her foot.

With sing-along songs, slapstick, jokes, colourful costumes and exciting sets, the scene is set for all kinds of Christmas delight - plus a bit of magic.

Jack and the Beanstalk, Chelmsford Civic, 4 December to 3 January.

You must have good giant for this story and the Civic has got a whopper prepared to put the wind up the grown-ups as well as the children. Continuing the partnership of the last two Christmases, this is a co-production by Chelmsford Theatres and One From The Heart.

The emphasis is on traditional panto and making sure that all the vital elements are there, from audience participation to local references and bags of corny gags. Special attention has been paid to some wonderful scenery and beautiful costumes.

This is one of the very earliest pantomime stories. It features Jack and his sweetheart Jill, his mother Dame Trot and their beloved cow, Daisy, who the foolish Jack swaps for a handful of beans instead of raising the money the family desperately needs.

One From The Heart have pulled together a top team for this panto with Richard Vincent as Jack and Ellie Baker as Jill the love of his up and down life.

The beans, of course, are hurled into the garden and, quick as a flash there's a beanstalk climbing tinto the sky. There's a fortune to be made for anyone bold enough to climb it - but there's also giant up there - the biggest, nastiest one you have ever seen. Be ready to make a run for it!

Beauty and the Beast, Felixstowe Spa, 3 - 6 December.

Felixstowe Musical Theatre have a lot to live up to because their production of Snow White last year won them the National Operatic and Dramatic Society's (NODA) best panto in the region award.

This year, opening as always to compliment the switch-on of the Felixstowe Christmas lights, they are hoping to repeat the feat with a colourful Beauty and the Beast. And Michelle Tountney-Langham, who was Snow White last year, is Belle, the lead girl once again.

In a show that will contain more singing and dancing than previous FMT pantos, it has Adam Flatman as the Beast, Lee Cooper as Louis the chap who simply loves himself, Sally Mann as Mrs Glum and Alex Shulver as Gary. With lots of jokes and stunning costumes, there are matinees on Saturday and Sunday.

Norwich Playhouse, We're Going on a Bear Hunt, Dec 1 - 13.

The stage adaptation of Michael Rosen's prize-winning children's book is suitable for youngsters over three years old and follows a sell-out summer run in London. It lasts 55 minutes without an interval and tells the story of five young adventurers who travel through a wood, over a river and into a cave in their quest to find a bear. And what happens when they discover one!

Christmas Spectacular, Co-op Juniors at Snape Maltings, 17 - 22 December.

For four years Juniors have been packing them in by car and coachload and the fifth show will again be serving up the kind of colourful festive cheer that is quite different to anything else in the area. It's not a panto but a special musical Christmas present for its Maltings audience.

Director Pauline Walker says, “We always have something for people of all ages, young and not so young and this year we have beautiful new sets and scenery that we have been working on for months to compliment the hundreds of lovely costumes.

“There are 100 in the show altogether. They range from seven through to adults and they are working together better than ever.” Drilled with military precision, Co-op Juniors are noted for their dance and this year will see some ballet, jazz, tap and street dance, including a tribute to Michael Jackson.

“The songs will also cover all tastes, from standards to pop and one of the top fun scenes will be our version of Peter Kay's hit Amarillo. He did it on television with lots of people on a moving staircase. We don't have one of those but we do have lots of talented singers.”

Robin Hood, Norwich Theatre Royal, 15 December to 17 January.

This panto sports a number of well-known TV faces, not least Tony Slattery who is playing the evil Sheriff of Nottingham - and he's not the only nasty piece of work in the piece because Helen Atkinson-Wood is the Wicked Witch.

Slattery shot to fame as one of the regulars on Channel Four's Whose Line Is It Anyway?and has been seen more recently in the Sunday night comedy, Kingdom, with Stephen Fry.

Atkinson-Wood won a Montreux Silver Rose Award for the comedy series Radio Active and is now better known as a TV presenter on Channel Four's Collector's Lot and Private Lives on ITV. Danny Seward from Survivors is Robin Hood with Daniella Kelly as Maid Marian.

Theatre Royal stalwart Richard Gauntlett has once more written and directed the panto and is also appearing as Dame Dotty. He is not given away any secrets about the show except to say, “I will be wearing a lot of frocks and getting very wet.” But he's not saying how.

Also taking part in the Sherwood Forest adventure is TV comic Andre Vincent as Much the Miller with Joe Allen as Little John and Suffolk-based actor David Redgrave - appearing in his 21st panto - as Friar Tuck.

Cinderella, Lowestoft Marina, 10 December to 3 January.

Anne Charleston is flying in to wave her wand and add some extra enchantment to this seaside show. As Madge Bishop she was Kylie Minogue's mum in Neighbours when the TV series was watched by 18 million in the UK and she's just been home to Australia to visit family and friends.

Now she's back as the Fairy Godmother making sure that Cinders can get to the big ball at the palace. Charleston has also done two stints in Emmerdale and filmed the drama Dossa and Joe, written by Caroline Ahern and seen on BBC2.

A busy stage actress she recently toured in The Matchmaker and appeared in Present Laughter and Five Blue Haired Ladies Sitting On a Green Park Bench.

She's played Lowestoft before, loves the town and is looking forward to having fun opposite Dave Benson Phillips, the popular children's TV entertainer, who plays Buttons. His Bafta-nominated show, Get Your Own Back, has run to 14 series.

All the traditional trapping of panto are here: slapstick, sing-alongs, gags galore and that bit of glass-slipper magic that makes sure Cinders can put one over the Ugly Sisters and win a prince.

Dick Whittington and His Cat, Cambridge Arts, 10 December to 17 January.

The team that staged last years much-lauded Jack and the Beanstalk and the equally-successful Cinderella in 2007 is back, this time with a tale of cats and rats and, of course, a young man's quest for true love.

Brad Fitt, previously seen as Dame Trott and the prettier half of the Ugly Sisters, returns as Sarah the Cook with Julie Buckfield (Hollyoaks and Grange Hill) as Dick Whttington and Matt Crosby as Idle Jack.

The city is not quite what Dick was expecting when he set out from Gloucester because he's got real trouble with King Rat and his pesky rodents and we wonder if he can really beat all his foes, win the girl and become Lord Mayor of London. He just might, with the help of some great songs and jokes - and a little fairy stardust.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dramcoat, Cambridge Corn Exchange, 15 December to 3 January.

A complete contrast to panto, this Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice musical has Craig Chalmers, in the title role and he will be joined by children from the local Stagecoach theatre school to sing Any Dream Will Do..

Retelling the Biblical story of Joseph, his eleven brothers and the coat of many colours, the musical is full of great songs including, Close Ev'ry Door To Me and One More Angel.

Chalmers was a finalist in BBC TV's Any Dream Will Do the series that searched for a new Joseph for the London relaunch of the show.

Where they are and how to book

Ipswich Wolsey: Aladdin, until Jan 30. 01473 295900;

Norwich Playhouse: We're Going on a Bear Hunt (for over 3year-olds), 1 - 13 Dec. 01603 598598.

Ipswich John Mills: Mansfield Park and Ride, 2 Dec - 9 Jan. 01473 211498;

Felixstowe Spa Pavilion: Beauty and the Beast (FMT), 3 - 6 Dec; Jack and the Beanstalk, 19 Dec - 3 Jan. 01394 282126.

Bury Theatre Royal: Jack and the Beanstalk, 4 Dec - 17 Jan. 01284 769505;

Colchester Mercury: Cinderella, 4 Dec - 9 Jan. 01206 573948;

Chelmsford Civic: Jack and the Beanstalk, 4 Dec - 3 Jan. 01245 606505;

Lowestoft Marina: Cinderella, 10 Dec - Jan 3; Aladdin (Lowestoft Players), 23 - 31 Jan. 01502 533200.

Cambridge Arts: Dick Whittington, 10 Dec - 17 Jan. 01223 503333.

Cambridge Corn Exchange: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, 15 Dec - 3 Jan. 01223 357851;

Norwich Royal: Robin Hood, 15 Dec - 17 Jan. 01603 630000;

Norwich Maddermarket: Toad of Toad Hall, 17 Dec - 2 Jan; Carols by Candlelight (Locrian Ensemble), 1 - 2 Dec. 01603 620917;

Snape Maltings: Co-op Juniors Christmas Spectacular, 17 - 22 Dec. 01728 687110.

Bungay Fisher: Dick Whittington, 18 Dec - 3 Jan.

Ipswich Regent: Jack and the Beanstalk, 19 Dec - 10 Jan. 01473 433100;

Sudbury Quay: Alice in Wonderland, 19 Dec - 3 Jan. 01787 374745 or

Colchester Charter Hall: Co-op Juniors Christmas Spectacular. 28 - 30 Dec. 01206 282020.

Woodbridge Seckford: Mansfield Park and Ride (E Angles), 12 - 23 Jan. 01473 211498.

Debenham Players pantomime, Red Riding Hood, 28-30 Jan,,

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