Admission: I am not a fan of pantomimes.
Of course, if ever I am called upon to review such shows I enter the theatre with an open heart, mind and notebook but in finding the whole ‘he’s behind you’ forced jollity enough to make my toes curl, I am not alone. I know this because I often receive correspondence from you admitting the same.
For those who can’t bear the idea of a pantomime but still want to get into the festive spirit via the medium of live theatre, I bring glad tidings.
The theatres of our region this year in particular appear to have stepped up their collective games. There is family fare, some shows which are aimed at younger audiences and some that are aimed at those a little older.
The costumes and sets inside the Scarborough and Beverley units home to the biggest panto production company in the worldLeeds Playhouse is receiving well deserved and impressive reviews for its production of The Wizard of Oz, with director James Brining at the helm. A family affair, young people will enjoy the fact that the heroine Dorothy, so often played by a youthful-looking adult on stage, is played by an actual teenager in this production. And Toto is played, in part, by a real-life dog; there is always an extra frisson when nobody in the theatre knows what one of the performers on stage will do next.
A trip to somewhere spectacular over the rainbow is highly recommended. If you have particularly young charges in the family, ones who might find the Wicked Witch of the West a little too wicked, the Playhouse has also catered for them. The Night Before Christmas was first staged at the Playhouse in 2015 by director Amy Leach, who seems to specialise in directing shows with a massive heart. Little wonder that the hit show is coming back to the theatre and including this year the creative use of sign language woven into the action. It really is a perfect show if you have younger children in the family, or older ones who have forgotten the true meaning of Christmas.
If there is total determination to ‘bah humbug’ at any suggestion of forced festive jollity, the good news is that there is a theatre which is entering entirely into the spirit of the darker side of Christmas.
Meet the costume designer behind the rock 'n' roll pantomime at City VarietiesEarlier this year I presented the season launch for Lawrence Batley Theatre in Huddersfield and was joined on stage by poet Nikita Gill. Instagram’s favourite poet, who counts Alanis Morissette and one of the Kardashians as fans, was there to talk about her new Christmas show for the theatre: The Krumpus: a Fierce Fairytale.
Despite the play being a debut for the poet, she spoke with some confidence about her take on the story of a demon who takes away naughty children on Christmas Eve – until she meets her match.
Gill said at the time that she was looking forward to injecting even more mischief into the story. There is a reason the production, at the theatre until December 29, is slated as suitable for children aged ten and older. You have been warned. For something a little more traditionally festive, Northern Broadsides is bringing, this weekend, a festive fundraiser to the Viaduct Theatre in Halifax.
A Yorkshire theatre has banned plastic toys from its family Christmas pantomimeChristmas Broadsides is a concert performed tonight and over the weekend based around Broadsides ballads featuring Ripponden folk musician Alice Jones.
While children might enjoy the razzle dazzle of it, the truth is Sheffield Crucible is continuing its tradition this year of providing for audiences a Christmas show which is really designed to entertain the adults of a family.
The story of Nathan Detroit, Miss Adelaide, Sky Masterson and Sarah Brown is being brought to the Crucible stage this year by artistic director Robert Hastie. Guys and Dolls is one that will definitely appeal to parents and older children but, if the standard remains as high as it has been over the past decade, then convincing truculent teens to go along to a proper high class musical will pay dividends.
Over in Hull it’s the third year running for a partnership between Hull Truck and Deborah McAndrew. The playwright has provided the script for A Christmas Carol, Oliver Twist and now turns her hand to another classic, Peter Pan. The J M Barrie story of the boy who never grew old is being brought to the stage under the watchful eye of artistic director Mark Babych.
With a cast which continues his commitment to diversity, Babych continues to do an impressive job in Hull, where a cast of 16 young people from Hull make up the company playing the roles of the Lost Boys and the pirates. Hull Truck is also making sure there is something for the much younger end of the family with a new show How To Fly Like a Reindeer. A cast of two will bring to life the story of Nina who wants to fly. Much like Leeds Playhouse’s Night Before Christmas, this will be the most perfect way to get into the festive spirit.
Stephen Joseph Theatre is playing host to Treasure Island and a typically irreverent telling of the story by Nick Lane.
In York it is, of course, all about the panto. However, there is another intriguing theatrical event coming to the city. The De Grey Rooms, next to the Theatre Royal, will host a retelling of A Christmas Carol with actor John O’Connor using the same script Charles Dickens used when he toured the country with the story. O’Connor will play over 20 characters in the show which is raising money for Great Ormond Street Hospital.
With such a bounty, it’s virtually impossible, surely, to not think ‘God bless us, everyone’.
Some of the highlights this year
A Christmas Carol: Using the same script as Dickens, actor John O’Connor brings faithful retelling of a truly great Christmas story to the stage. De Grey Rooms, York Theatre Royal.December 17-21. 01904 623568.
The Night Before Christmas: Director Amy Leach is incapable of producing anything cynical. She is the perfect person to be in charge of a Christmas show. Leeds Playhouse to December 28. 0113 2137700.
Guys and Dolls: It’s one of the truly great musicals. Okay, it’s not that festive, but buying tickets for this is a sure thing. Sheffield Crucible, to January 18. 0114 2496000.