We took our eldest to see Sir Ian McKellen play Widow Twanky in Aladdin at the Old Vic in 2004. He was six. It was an evening performance and there were very few kids in the audience. At a time when dressing up (generally as Spiderman) was an essential part of his life, he was enraptured. He shrieked, "Look BEHIND you!!!!" louder than anyone else, found the slapstick side-splittingly hilarious, and the grown up smut and innuendo flew straight over his head. The joy of watching him upped our enjoyment a hundred-fold. I have loved panto ever since.
This year McKellen is back. Joined by John Bishop and Mel Giedroyc, their Mother Goose opens in Brighton on 3 Dec, is at the Duke of York’s in London from 15 Dec–29 Jan and then starts a run of regional theatres right up until Easter. I'm praying they manage to recreate the magic. Tickets: from £25
The second big name show this Christmas is Jack and the Beanstalk at the Palladium from 10 Dec–15 Jan. This one is glitzy and expensive-looking and, if past shows are anything to go by, populated more by groups of adults on a night up West than families. Dawn French and Julian Clary ham it up with a host of other big names. Expect inuendo overload. Tickets: from £22.50
Of course, panto really should be a local thing. In-jokes about regional issues that you need to be part of the community to get. And there are a few off-West End theatres that manage this brilliantly. And they need your support now, more than ever.
Hackney Empire prides itself on being the home of East End panto. There is certainly something about its slightly shabby music hall grandeur that makes you feels you are in the right place. Mother Goose runs 19 Nov–31 Dec. [Good end date. Panto after New Year's Eve can feel a bit desperate, like tinsel after Twelfth Night.] Clive Rowe is a seasoned Dame who knows his game. Worth crossing town for. Tickets: £12-£38
The charming Greenwich Theatre is the smallest we are recommending but we can vouch for it punching above its size. Robin Hood 24 Nov–8 Jan is written by Anthony Spargo who we have seen as a excellent baddie. He doubles as a dastardly Sheriff of Nottingham. Ages 5+. Tickets: £31 adults, £15.50 children
West Londoners will already be familiar with the Lyric Hammersmith's annual festive feast, which this year is Jack and the Beanstalk 19 Nov–7 Jan. Proudly supporting a host of young, local talent it is fun, irreverent and firmly rooted in W6. Ages 6+. Tickets: from £10
Emily Turner, 9 November 2022