It's Panto   time...

IT'S behind you!   Oh not it's's all still in front of you. The tinsel-topped slapstick, singalongs, dog-eared jokes, cross-dressing men ....and oh yes, enforced audience participation that is modern-day panto.

Speaking of which the Belgrade in Coventry is asking audiences to email ahead and nominate a member of their family to get up on stage with Dame Iain Lauchlan so they can take part in one of the set piece cookery scenes incorporated into their interpretation of Sleeping Beauty.

You know, the ones where everyone ends up covered in cake mix.

And there's lots of opportunities for getting involved. The Belgrade's firm favourite of a panto opens on November 21 and runs right through to January 5th.

Too old for panto?  Well at Warwick Arts Centre there's a spine-tingling music-hall style show full of ghouls and gruesome comedy aimed at the more sophisticated 12 plus age range. 

The company Tall Stories - who confusingly are also presenting a show for much younger children (detailed below) promise not only jokes but magical illusions in The Canterville Ghost which runs from December 18 until 30th - with a four day break in the middle for the cast to gobble their Christmas dinners.

The show is essentially a fun reworking of an old Oscar Wilde story all wrapped up with tricks to make even the most bored teenager sit up and take notice - all wrapped up in a rowdy Victorian  music hall setting.

However, for the five-plus audiences, Tall Stories changes tack completely by presenting Wilde Creatures - also based on the fairy tales of Oscar with pompous mayors, petulant princesses and love-sick students. Clips of this show can be seen on the Arts Centre website and there's a great long run from November 28 until December 30 - with a short Christmas break.

For all round family entertainment,  you might prefer the genii coming out of  the bottle in Aladdin at Bedworth Civic Hall with a script written by Ben Crocker and directed by the Civic Hall manager Tim Norton.

While admitting he's biased, Tim believes the Civic Hall's back-stage crew has come up with some enthralling special effects. The  show runs from December 1 to 29th and this year's cast includes Christian James as Aladdin with Rebecca Bailey as Princess Jasmine. In addition Gregor  Duncan will join Abanazar and Wishy Washy in the specially created new role of PC Bond, of the Emperor's Secret Service.

And do note that if you miss this Aladdin in north Warwckshire there's another version rolling out the magic carpet over at the Talisman Theatre, Kenilworth from December 21-Jan 5.


Meanwhile, up the road at the Royal Spa Centre, Leamington, they're claiming it will be a CAT-astrophe to miss their production of Dick Whittington as he goes from rags to riches, helped - or perhaps hindered - by hugely popular dame JP McCue.

You can see Dick and his furball of a friend anytime between December 1-30.


However, for those fancying a break with tradition, you could do a lot worse than visit The Criterion in Earlsdon between December 1-8 to catch Alan Bennett's script for the classic tale Wind In The Willows.


Another company that doesn't care much for panto is The Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford. They're offering what's sure to be a visually stunning version of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol from December 4 right through until January 20.


Finally, right on the edge of Coventry city centre the recently refurbished Albany Theatre has not one but two seasonal productions.  Oh yes, it does.

The first is Peter Pan which runs from December 10 to 22nd and the second is Beauty and the Beast, by The Three Spires and Guildhall group who take over the theatre from December 31 to January 5.


Then back in north Warwickshire Pantoland the Abbey Theatre in Nuneaton is offering Jack and the Beanstalk from December 12-16. The in-house Abbey Players promise magic beans, a cow and Fleshcreep, the terrifying henchman of that mighty giant in the sky.


In Kenilworth that's another cat who rather fancies himself as the village of Little Dribbley comes under threat from the dastardly Baron Bombastic.  Bet they've not been able to resist throwing in lots of digs about high speed rail in this Priory Theatre production of Puss in Boots which runs from December 12-30. 

Wouldn't be all all surprised if Baron Bombastic doesn't turn out to be some top executive on the HS2 team.

Whether a cat can save them, remains to be seen.

At The Dream Factory in Warwick, from Dec 20 to 31,  60 members of Playbox Theatre are producing The Snow Queen with Eilidh Evans in the title role and Jamie Whitlaw as the master storyteller Hans Andersen.

The young company will use in-line skating sequences inspired by the actual ice spectacles of the 1930s.

*   Do note that lots of Christmas shows sell out early so it's vital that you check out more details on the individual theatre websites. 

Reviews of as many as possible will follow in coming weeks. Go to Reviews  

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