"Expect a barrage of recession-proof jokes, a smattering of double entendres"

Expect a barrage of recession-proof jokes, a smattering of double entendres and plenty of audience participation as the curtain goes up on another great British pantomime season.

Love it or hate it, pantomime has been raising the theatre roof for more than 200 years in Britain and it's still as popular as ever - oh yes, it is.

Pantomime's history can be traced back to ancient Rome, when bands of entertainers put on simple performances for villagers. The first panto staged in this country is believed to have been Cinderella, performed at the Drury Lane Theatre, London, in 1804. However, these early pantos were modelled on medieval Italian 'commedia del arte' plays and quite different from what we're used to today.

These days TV soap stars, slapstick comedy and naff jokes, deliberately written to make us groan, are all part of the fun, but panto remains an art form steeped in topsy-turvy tradition: the Principal Boy is played by a girl, Widow Twankey by a man, and the villain is always booed and hissed by the audience. And, if you're wondering where the next punchline is coming from, it's usually 'behind you!'...

Here's our guide to this season's best pantos across the network.

Manchester

The Opera House has a long tradition of putting on pantomimes and this year's production of Aladdin will feature a Coronation Street baddie as the ultimate stage villain. Actor Gray O'Brien, who plays Weatherfield businessman Tony Gordon, will take the stage as the evil Abanazar. Dancing On Ice star Chris Fountain plays Aladdin.

York

'Who's the fairest of them all?' - could it be this production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at the Grand Opera House? The show features soap stars galore: Lynne McGranger (Irene in Home & Away) as the Wicked Queen, Michelle Hardwick, who played Lizzie in The Royal, as Snow White and hunky Mark Griffin, aka Trojan from Gladiators, as the Prince.

Blackpool

The Grand Theatre always puts on a great show, and this year Peter Pan swings in, with CBBC star Barney Harwood in the title role. Gary Turner, who was Emmerdale's hot-blooded chef Carlos Diaz, is the evil Captain Hook. CBBC's Gemma Hunt is Tinkerbell, while acrobats The Nitwits cause hilarious havoc as the madcap pirate crew.

Newcastle

Ahh, it's Cinderella, the most famous panto of them all! Former Emmerdale actress Roxanne Pallett, who played Jo Sugden in the soap, has landed the lead role in Newcastle's biggest Christmas show. Roxanne, who also appeared in ITV's Dancing On Ice, is joined by top double act Clive Webb and Danny Adams. Expect the unexpected if you're sitting in the front row!

Glasgow

Some venues like to stage a more theatrical panto - without the big- name stars but with plenty of tradition. The Runway Theatre Company has been putting on this kind of production for years, to great critical acclaim. Glasgow's Eastwood Park Theatre hosts the company in Robin Hood and the Babes in the Wood.

Theatre Facts

Manchester Opera House

Aladdin. 5 December 2009 to 3 January 2010. 
Box office 0844 847 2295

www.manchesteroperahouse.org.uk

York Grand Opera House

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. 11 December 2009 to 3 January 2010. Box office 0844 847 2322

www.grandoperahouseyork.org.uk

See Snow White for just £9.50 per ticket on the 11 Dec! Just quote Explorer magazine when booking!

Blackpool Grand Theatre

Peter Pan. 4 December 2009 to 3 January 2010.

Box office 01253 290190, www.blackpoolgrand.co.uk

Newcastle Theatre Royal

Cinderella. 1 December 2009 to 16 January 2010.

Box office 08448 112121

www.theatreroyal.co.uk

Glasgow Eastwood 
Park Theatre

Robin Hood and the Babes in the Wood. 15-19 December 2009. 
Box office 0141 577 4970

www.glasgowpanto.com 
£2 off tickets between 15-17 Dec 09 - just quote Explorer magazine when booking!

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