Grand dames

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As it’s that time of year again – oh yes it is! – Theatre correspondent Nick Ahad takes a look at some of the pantos on offer around the region this festive season.

As I continue to receive emails about a column I wrote almost a month ago now featuring my Five Golden Rules for Good Theatre Going, I feel it’s important to clarify something: The Rules do not apply to pantomimes.

The Rules about not talking, not interrupting the action, not taking phone calls – basically being a decent human being – forget all that. It’s panto season.

Each year I am assailed by theatres in the region asking me if I’d like to see their pantomime and each year I come up with a more elaborate excuse as to why I can’t make it to their shows. I do try to make it to one panto in the area each year – it seems only right.

All being well, last night I was at Wakefield Theatre Royal for Sleeping Beauty, which I’m sure was great fun and a jolly time was had by all (really, reviewing panto seems a bit futile – if you like pantos you’re going to love whichever one you go to and if you don’t, you won’t be bothering).

This year’s big draw at York Theatre Royal is, as ever, the foursome who have been performing the panto together there for over 20 years. Suzy Cooper, David Leonard and panto grand dame Berwick Kaler and their friend and colleague Martin Barrass. Earlier this year Martin was involved in a motorbike accident and was in intensive care for weeks. Last week on the second night of the panto he was in the audience and received a standing ovation when he made a short guest appearance. The chance to feel part of that special panto family – that’s the secret that keeps bringing audiences back year after year.

The not-so-secret ingredient in Bradford, one of the country’s biggest pantomimes, is Billy Pearce. The consummate performer is back for yet another chance to shout ‘hiya kids’ – which he does brilliantly. He really has that something special that makes the Bradford Alhambra panto, this year Peter Pan, such a huge success. It runs to January 29.

The Wakefield Theatre Royal panto, the one I hopefully saw last night, is Sleeping Beauty and it runs until New Year’s Eve. It’s one of the shows in the region that doesn’t rely on star names, just really good actors.

Down in Sheffield there are star names on the bill. This year’s panto is Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Wendi Peters, better known as Cilla from Corrie and CBeebies’ Phil Gallagher are joined by Damian Williams, known to Sheffield audiences as well as Berwick Kaler is known in York.

In Harrogate Dick Whittington is trying to make his way to London town. It’s about five years since I saw the panto at Harrogate Theatre, but I remember loving the charm of a small but perfectly formed show.

In Huddersfield the Lawrence Batley Theatre is staging its first ever professional panto, Cinderella, since opening its doors back in 1994. With Joyce Branagh, sister of Kenneth, at the helm, it will be a welcome addition to that part of the region, particularly as Northern Broadsides regular Andrew Pollard is also involved as the writer.

Whichever panto you choose to see over the festive season, have a blast and throw my rulebook out of the window. Merry Christmas.