The traditional pantomime-season for 2010/11 begins in earnest during the coming weeks, which will either put the fear of God into parents or afford them a secret glow about turning into a kid once more. Pantos are great fun (for the most part) and the success of a good panto not only rests with the choice of story, but with the actors taking part and the production behind it.
We've picked out the most interesting and familiar panto-stories and checked out the most interesting on offer at the moment.
Click on the images below to check for ticket availability and other regional performances
A perennial favourite with kids, especially when the genie appears is Aladdin and pick of the bunch is Glasgow's SECC production starring the ever-versatile John Barrowman. Running from 11th December-9th January, the production also stars Scotland's endearing 'fan-dabi-dozi' odd-couple The Krankies. Tickets cost £14-£27.50 with a deaf-signed production on 19th December.
Alice in Wonderland
The acclaimed puppetry company in North London, Little Angel Theatre, add the popular Lewis Carroll story to their growing repertoire with the use of hand-crafted and designed puppets by Peter O'Rourke. A far cry from the usual Z-list celebs and contrived predictability, the fantasy world through the looking-glass is perfectly realised by using a bit of imagination. Tickets cost £8 for the preview night on 20th November, or £13 thereafter with a £42 family-ticket also available.
Traditionally presented as a straight panto, the Royal Opera House instead offer up their ballet alternative for a month-long residency. Choreographed by Frederick Ashton and featuring the charming score by Prokofiev, the plot remains the same - the sweet-natured Cinderella wants to go to the ball to meet the dashing prince, yet falls foul of the scheming step-sisters' spiteful plans who themselves fall foul of the fairy godmother. Tickets cost from £23 plus fees.
Amongst the numerous regional offerings around the country this year, the Hippodromes in Bristol and Birmingham offer you the chance to see household names in key panto-roles. Bristol's top-quality show stars Eastenders and Carry On star Barbara Windsor, as well as Corrie's Eric Potts and comic Andy Ford - decent seats start from £27 (runs from 11th Dec - 9th Jan). Birmingham's huge show stars English rose and soap-queen Joan Collins, catty-comedian Julian Clary, debonair Nigel Havers, 'Hi-De-Hi'-star Jeffery Holland and Keith Harris with Orville and Cuddles - tickets are from £25.50 (runs from 18th Dec - 30th Jan)
Jack and the Beanstalk
This seems a very popular choice for theatres in 2010, not least for London's famous Hackney Empire. The cast has yet to be confirmed but you have the choice of several performances over a 6 week season to witness another classic piece of Empire panto that the Guardian and the Times have exclaimed "panto of the year" etc. Tickets are reasonable as well - £9.50, rising to £21.50 for top seats.
The Manchester area has two versions of this swashbuckling fairytale to choose from - Stcokport's Plaza stars Only Fools And Horses star John Challis (Boycie) as Captain Hook and runs from 10th Dec - 9th Jan (tickets cost £15), while Salford's Lowry offers up their production, starring Brian Capron and Sarah Jayne Dunn and running from 8th December to New Year's Day, for £21-£32.
Manchester is spoilt for choice for pantos again this year and the central Opera House has soap-stars a-plenty for their production of Snow White - Corrie's Tina O'Brien and Emmerdale's Deena Payne and Andy Devine all feature in the family-fun, running from 3rd Dec - 2nd Jan (tickets cost from £17 for decent seats).
Panto's On Strike
Finally if it's something a little more near-the-knuckle you are after, you could stick with Manchester again for their raucous tale of a crisis in Pantoland, starring Paddy McGuinness and Jonny Wilkes. "Panto's On Strike" is an apt story of all your favourite pantomime characters downing pointy-hats and comedy-shoes in protest at the capture of their Princess by local hood, Evil King Foo. Tickets are £18.50 upwards.
Snow White and the Seven Poofs
London's Leicester Square Theatre is also offering an over-18s show in the shape of "Snow White and the Seven Poofs", a show from the creators of "Sinderfella". A few weekend shows are already sold-out, but other mid-week presentations are up for grabs (is that the right expression in this case?) for £18.50.