Did we have a good Christmas last year? Oh no we didn’t. The pandemic put paid to pantomime season, along with all other traditional forms of festive fun, such as drunken Christmas work parties or, y’know, seeing your loved ones.
Fortunately, this year theatres are back open for business and we can put all of that stuff… behind us (sorry). Obviously last year was pretty rubbish - and the cancelling of the capital’s festive shows left large numbers of theatre’s freelance workforce unemployed at Christmas time. So the return of the panto season is something to celebrate, not least because once more there are a heap of shows ready to make us laugh, sing and amuse/terrify small children.
Would it be Christmas without jokes about magic beans that only grown-ups can comprehend? Quite frankly, no. Here’s our guide to London’s best pantomimes in 2021.
Aladdin, Lyric Hammersmith
The Lyric’s annual panto has long had a rep for bringing the fun, offering a raucous night courtesy of various cool directors. This year it’s Abigail Graham at the helm, who just directed Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s play Mum at Soho Theatre, and the cast includes an ensemble of young talent from West London.
Nov 19 to Jan 2, 2022; lyric.co.uk
Anton du Beke making his panto debut? All’s right with the world. Catch the newly inaugurated Strictly judge in action as Buttons at Richmond Theatre, a role which he says is making him “feel like the luckiest guy in the world”. Sure, he’s easily pleased, but we’re happy for him.
Dec 3 to Jan 2, 2022; atgtickets.com
Jack and the Beanstalk, Hackney Empire
Hurrah! Clive Rowe, veteran of the genre, is donning his petticoat once more. He’ll play Dame Trot, mother of Jack, in the Hackney Empire’s custard pie-filled show - if you want to see a top panto, you can’t go wrong with Rowe.
Nov 20 to Jan 2, 2022; hackneyempire.co.uk
Pantoland, London Palladium
If you like your Widow Twanky a bit more swanky, this star-studded panto extravaganza at the London Palladium will be bringing the glitz and glam. Julian Clary and Donny Osmond will star alongside celebrated dance troupe The Tiller Girls. Expect big costumes, comedy, and lots of glitter.
Dec 4 to Jan 9, 2022; palladiumpantomime.com
Red Riding Hood, Stratford East
Everyone’s favourite children’s story about a grandma getting eaten is Stratford East’s pick for its panto this year. Their annual festive show is a community fave, and it’s back this year with a bang.
Nov 27 to Dec 31; stratfordeast.com
Dick Whittington, New Wimbledon Theatre
No wigs for Shane Richie this time round, who was last on stage as the glam Loco Chanelle in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie. He’ll be stepping up to play the lead role in Wimbledon’s panto, as the man on a quest to become Mayor of London.
Dec 4 to Jan 2, 2022, atgtickets.com
Potted Panto, Garrick Theatre
If you really, really love pantos, you might want to see Potted Panto, now a festive staple of the capital’s Christmas offering: it offers audiences the chance to see seven pantos in 70 minutes. Oh yes, it does. (Really.)
Dec 11 to Jan 9, 2022; nimaxtheatres.com
Snow White, Theatre503
This is probably the best way to see a panto: above a pub. Fringe venue Theatre503, which sits above the Latchmere pub in Battersea, has been bringing Londoners pantos with a twist for a few years now. This Christmas, it’s Scottish theatremaker Lucy Wilson’s version of Snow White.
Dec 11-30; theatre503.com
Sleeping Beauty and the Beast, Battersea Arts Centre
Comedy trio Sleeping Trees are known for their brilliantly silly genre mash-ups, and this year they’re turning panto on its head. In their show at the Battersea Arts Centre, it’s the beast who has gone to sleep — and a crack squad (ie. the audience) will have to work to wake him up.
Nov 26 to Dec 30, bac.org.uk