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Your Christmas stars

It's pantomime time again, which can only mean one thing .

It's pantomime time again, which can only mean one thing . . . the annual deluge of stars eager to tread the boards and make us laugh. But is your theatre's Buttons brilliant or do they only have a woeful Widow Twanky? Coreena Ford takes a peep at the North's panto line-up.

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Michael Barrymore in Scrooge

Who? Michael Barrymore.
Where? Scrooge The Musical, Sunderland Empire.
When? December 5 to January 13.
Why see it? I know, Scrooge isn't strictly a pantomime but it's Wearside's biggest Christmas show. The musical was a sell-out in the West End, but it didn't have an auspicious start at the Empire, with some theatregoers boycotting the show when they heard troubled entertainer Michael Barrymore was playing the lead. Michael has surely told everyone and his dog about his woes by now, so he'll be more than ready to put the ghosts of his past behind him to show us the entertaining Barrymore of old.
And with sets, costumes and illusions created by magician Paul Kieve - the man responsible for the magical effects in the Harry Potter films - it should Strike It Lucky with families.

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Jill Halfpenny in Jack and the Beanstalk

Who? Jill Halfpenny.
Where? Jack and the Beanstalk, Theatre Royal, Newcastle.
When? December 11 to January 20.
Why see it? The Waterloo Road star played the Fairy Godmother in the theatre's production of Cinderella last year and it was such a success that she's back as Mother Nature, together with the same team from 2005. Comic father and son duo Clive Webb and Danny Adams won't be widely known to readers but they're both panto pros who run their own circus in Great Yarmouth.
Watch out for Jill's fiance Craig Conway who's got a role of his own as Snot Gobbler after wowing crowds by proposing to Jill on stage last year.
Throw in the biggest plate-smashing routine in the history of panto and a pantomime cow called Shearer and it's a recipe for success.

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Cinderella, Darlington Civic Theatre

Who? Denise Welch and The Krankies.
Where? Cinderella, Darlington Civic Theatre.
When? December 8 to January 21.
Why see it? Geordie actress Denise Welch has been extremely busy filming a new series of BBC drama Waterloo Road but she can't wait to play the Fairy Godmother in her home territory.
As a former Coronation Street star and a regular presenter on talk show Loose Women, Denise will be a real star attraction. Many parents probably remember The Krankies - aka husband and wife duo Ian and Jeanette - from their days on telly in the 1980s. The strange pairing aren't my cup of tea but as veterans of the panto circuit the twosome know just how to entertain, this time as Baron Hardup and Buttons.

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Lucinda Cowden stars in Peter Pan

Who? Lucinda Cowden.
Where? Peter Pan, Gala Theatre, Durham.
When? December 6 to January 7.
Why see it? There are no huge stars at the Gala Theatre, although best known is Lucinda Cowden, who longstanding Neighbours fans will no doubt recognise as the slightly insane Melanie Pearson, who married Joe Mangle on the Aussie soap show where she appeared between 1988 and 1991. Her co-star Pee Wee Price is a comedian who's a firm favourite on the pantomime circuit known for injecting magic into his performances.

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Who? Darren Day, Stephanie Dooley, Pauline Fleming . . . and the Crazy Frog.
Where? Jack and the Beanstalk, Forum Theatre, Billingham, Teesside.
When? December 9 to January 7.
Why see it? He may have been a Jack the Lad in the past, but Darren Day is happy to be plain ol' Jack in panto these days and he'll be showing off his fiancee co-star Stephanie, who stars in Emmerdale. Pauline Fleming was last seen in Coronation Street crying over on-screen beau Mike Baldwin but she'll be smiling again thanks to the razzmatazz of playing the Vegetable Fairy.
For such an eclectic cast the Forum should get full marks . . . but then there's the infuriating Crazy Frog. Let's hope he croaks before his curtain call. One star is docked until he hops off.

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Brendan Healey stars in Dick Whittington

Who? Brendan Healey with Maxie and Mitch.
Where? Dick Whittington, Journal Tyne Theatre, Newcastle.
When? December 7 to 30.
Why see it? Newcastle Pantomime Company, back by popular demand! Actor and comedian Brendan and co are old hands at whipping up the Tyne Theatre crowd, and this panto always showcases the very best of the region's comic talent. Singer and comedienne Stephanie Constable - Brendan's wife - and theatre stalwart Kevin O'Keefe join them on stage. Bosses are also promising some surprising cameo appearances too. The names may not be known south of York, but who cares?

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The best of the rest...

Babes in the Wood , Customs House, South Shields, South Tyneside. December 4 to January 6. The cast includes regulars Bob Stott and Ray Spencer, Miss Newcastle 2004 Sonia Strong, Victoria Elliott and Darren Palmer. Tickets from £7.50. Call 0191-454 1234.

Thumbelina , Northern Stage, Newcastle. November 24 to January 6. One for the little ones, a show full of music and fun. Tickets are free. To reserve your seats call 0191-230 5151.

Aladdin , Whitley Bay Playhouse, Whitley Bay, North Tyneside. January 8 to 13. Whitley Bay Pantomime Society. Booking opens December 7. Tickets £6.50, £6 concessions, all Monday tickets £5, Saturday matinees £7, family of four £24. One free ticket for every 10 booked. Call 0191-252 3505.

Cinderella , Empire Theatre, Consett, County Durham. December 14 to 30. An upbeat version of the traditional panto with Mike Sarne, 1960s pop star Billie Davis, Alistair Divall from ITV's Keynotes, and Jane Flanagan as Cinderella. Tickets £8.50 and £10, plus other special offers. Call 01207-218171.

Peter Pan , Middlesbrough Theatre. December 8 to January 7. Stars BBC Radio Cleveland's Matthew Davies and Stephen McGeough amongst others, with members of Middlesbrough Youth Theatre and Spotlight Performing Arts. Tickets £11, concessions £9.50, family tickets £36. Call 01642-815181.

Aladdin , Grand Opera House, York. December 13 to 31. Starring Michael Starke who played Sinbad in Brookside with Syd Little and Eddie Large. Tickets £11 to £15. Call 0870-6063595.

Cinderella , Theatre Royal, York. December 13 to February 3. Starring Berwick Kaler and Martin Barrass. Tickets £10 to £23. Call 01904-623568.

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