With so many pantomimes playing across the capital in the coming Christmassy weeks, we decided to put four of our favourite offerings through their paces in a fittingly silly battle of wits to help you decide which panto is the right fit for you and your family this season.
Fighting Hackney Empire’s established panto corner is Olivier Award-winning actor and Mother Goose star Sharon D Clarke. Representing the new dames on the block is Emmerdale star – and Tupperware lover – Michael Cahill, who is taking the wigtastic lead in the Park Theatre’s Jack And The Beanstalk. Claiming west side is best side is the Lyric Hammersmith’s Dick Whittington And His Cat’s shining Bauble, Rebecca Craven. And finally, tempting you across the river is CBeebies star Chris Jarvis, who proves himself an unmuddled Muddles representing Richmond Theatre’s Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs.
So, read on to discover who has the best costumes, which show will offer you the biggest sugar fix and which cast member boasts the silliest innuendo to find yourself a festive winner. But remember, with the season to be jolly officially starting on Monday – according to us anyway – you’ve got time to see them all.
What’s the most magical moment in your panto?
Hackney Empire’s Sharon: I would say Priscilla’s [the Golden Goose] entrance because she enters through the auditorium heralded by a flock of geese that flood the auditorium! It’s so brilliant because you see the kids’ faces and they are just like ‘Wow that’s great!’.
Park Theatre's Michael: The most magical moment has to be when I have a cup of delicious Herbal Bishop in my dressing room during the interval whilst soaking my feet in Tupperware.
Lyric Hammersmith's Rebecca: The most magical moment in the show is at the end of act one; I won’t give too much away but it involves a spell, some fairy power and a big company number of a popular song! What more could you want?
Richmond Theatre's Chris: The biggest magical moment involves the Wicked Queen, a lot of poison and some fruit, but hopefully you will find the whole show magical. The gorgeous sets and costumes have more glitter than Elton John alone and every scene has plenty of oo, aaah and wow.
Prove your comedy credentials by telling us your favourite ever pantomime joke or innuendo…
Hackney Empire’s Sharon: When they are in the forest, Baron Barmy says to Frightening Freddie ‘Be careful, the forest is full of ghosts and ghoulies’ and Frightening Freddie says ‘I don’t want to get caught by the ghosties’ and Baron Barmy says ‘ I don’t want to get caught by the…’
Park Theatre's Michael: The best line was during a production of Cinderella. Buttons asked the audience what he should do for Cinderella when she couldn’t go to the ball. A teenager in the audience shouted back something so vulgar I nearly fell off my chair…. Use your imagination and you’ll not even be halfway there.
Lyric Hammersmith's Rebecca: I’ll never get bored of ‘Oh yes she/he can’ ‘Oh no she/he can’t’!
Richmond Theatre's Chris: My favourite jokes are the quick quips that belong in pantomime and nowhere else; quite often you hear them trotted out every year yet they still get belters. However our clever script by Eric Potts rests on no such laurels, it’s full of fresh material while remaining firmly in the panto zone.
I think that’s why I’m enjoying this year so much, it’s original yet still incredibly funny. I don’t think Eric would thank me for quoting any one-liners here… lawyers with red noses would be called to splat me with custard, so please trust me and pop along.
How many sweets will you be throwing to the audience every night?
Hackney Empire’s Sharon: Mother Goose throws sweets into the stalls, balcony and dress circle every show! There are millions of tubs of celebrations out back so I don’t know how many there are but I know the temptation to eat them is too much!
Park Theatre's Michael: I’m hoping that they will be throwing their festive chocs at me instead.
Lyric Hammersmith's Rebecca: Our Dick Whittington is in charge of the sweet throwing and there will be plenty of sweets to be caught throughout our show!
Richmond Theatre's Chris: I’m waiting for the delivery and the Health & Safety hazard assessment certificate. Provided they are soft centres and won’t knock anyone out, I will be looking for an opportunity to improve my lousy cricket skills whether it’s up to the upper circle or out of the dressing room window.
What is the most elaborate wig or costume in your show?
Hackney Empire’s Sharon: Susie [writer and director McKenna, who is also playing Vanity] always has some huge kind of creature every year and this year it is a vulture the width of the stage! It takes three people just to move it!
Park Theatre's Michael: The most elaborate costume is normally worn by Brenda our Narrator. She’s on holiday at her static caravan in Clacton-on-Sea and I have a sneaky feeling she’s taken it with her.
Lyric Hammersmith's Rebecca: Our wonderful panto dame Baps has the most amazing costumes, the hip widths increase throughout the show and the dresses become more amazing scene by scene. The finale dress is truly spectacular, it is HUGE, very glam and sparkly!
Richmond Theatre's Chris: Our sensational costumes have been designed by the creative genius Terry Parsons. Jerry Hall’s outfits are exceptionally stunning – lots of red, gold and black with lace and sparkly bits. It helps having an international supermodel showing it all off.
If you weren’t playing your character, who would you like to play?
Hackney Empire’s Sharon: Last year I got to play a baddy, which I never get to do and it was great fun! So I think it would be Vanity. Also because she is magical and I like playing magical characters. I’m a huge fan of Marvel and superpowers!
Park Theatre's Michael: If I couldn’t play Dame Tupperware Tina, it would have to be Bishy McGwendez, though I would need extra rehearsals as I’ve never ‘Tugged the Jepson’ in public.
Lyric Hammersmith's Rebecca: If I could play any other part it would have to be Queen Rat. It would be fun to play a baddie and have that power over the audience. Plus her musical numbers are awesome!
Richmond Theatre's Chris: Oh the Wicked Queen, definitely! All the fun of being an outrageous panto dame and villain at the same time. I had a taste of playing a dame in the CBeebies panto Jack And The Beanstalk a couple of years ago and enjoyed it far too much.
Which of your fellow cast members make you laugh the most?
Hackney Empire’s Sharon: It’s got to be Susie because when she writes the play, she does so thinking about who she is going to cast. She writes the lines in a certain way that she hears each actor saying them and this makes each character funny. I sit at the side of the stage and just laugh.
Park Theatre's Michael: The funniest cast member is the hand puppet Daisy; she’s all fingers and thumb.
Lyric Hammersmith's Rebecca: The cast are all incredible, but our dame (Stewart Wright) is absolutely hilarious!! I’m constantly laughing in rehearsals, he’s incredibly quick with his cheeky one-liners and can make a bog standard joke absolutely hilarious with his delivery.
Richmond Theatre's Chris: Nicholas Colicos who plays the Wicked Queen’s henchman, Herman, is hilarious – just as quick witted off stage as he is on. He has been in many of my favourite shows like The Producers and Sunset Boulevard, and we are so lucky to have his comedy and vocal talents in this show. Jerry Hall is a scream too. She totally gets panto, she is a wickedly funny, deliciously devilish villain.
If you had to share a pantomime horse costume with someone, who would you choose?
Hackney Empire’s Sharon: Anyone that is not vegetarian for obvious reasons...
Park Theatre's Michael: I would share the panto horse with Boutros Boutros-Ghali because he has one of the world’s priceless Tupperware collections and I would love to get my hands around one of his ‘Jebbys’.
Lyric Hammersmith's Rebecca: If I had to share a pantomime horse costume with someone it would have to be Alan Carr because he’d make me laugh loads and I imagine he’d smell lovely!
Richmond Theatre's Chris: Someone fit and funny like [fellow cast member] Aimie Atkinson. She could go at the front and do all the clever stuff while I plod around being the back half. It would be an easier job, plus she keeps a packet of wine gums in her back pocket.
In six words, why should people pick your pantomime this Christmas?
Hackney Empire’s Sharon: Super slick, entertaining and the best!
Park Theatre's Michael: People should see our Jack And The Beanstalk because we are very close to the tube station and there is a fruit seller outside who shouts ‘Banana Banana’ a lot. Oh and, of course, our incredible show is like no other magical show you’ll see this Christmas, that’s a promise!
Lyric Hammersmith's Rebecca: In six words people should pick my panto because: it is the best in London.
Richmond Theatre's Chris: It’s a magical, original and hysterical take on a wonderful story…. and I can’t count.