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Learn all about the history of the Palladium panto ahead of ‘Robin Hood’ | London Theatre

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Julian Clary stars in the title role of Robin Hood, the 2024 Palladium pantomime, alongside Jane McDonald, Marisha Wallace, Tosh Wanogho-Maud, Rob Madge, and more.

It’s behind you! The Palladium pantomime has an incredible history stretching right back to 1914. The tradition was revived in 2016, and every year since the London Palladium has hosted the starriest panto in town, with big names from comedy, variety, and musical theatre joining forces for fabulous festive entertainment.

This year’s Christmas treat is Robin Hood, with Palladium regular Julian Clary in the starring role as the daring archer of Sherwood Forest. He’s joined by returning favourites Paul Zerdin, Nigel Havers, Charlie Stemp, and Rob Madge, while Jane McDonald and West End stars Tosh Wanogho-Maud and Marisha Wallace all make their Palladium panto debuts.

Expect naughty gags from Clary about his merry men, plus spectacular sets, big musical numbers, and general comic mayhem. Ahead of your trip, learn more about the incredible legacy of pantomime at this prestigious venue.

The first Palladium pantos

Pantomime is a treasured tradition in Britain, and the mighty Palladium got in on the act in 1914 with its very first production: Dick Whittington and his Cat. The show proved a big hit with audiences, so the following year the Palladium brought pantomime back, this time programming its first Cinderella.

Cinders was a popular choice of subject, returning many times over the years, along with other panto favourites like Aladdin (also oft-repeated), Humpty Dumpty, Mother Goose, Puss in Boots, Babes in the Wood, Sleeping Beauty, Jack and the Beanstalk, and more.

The grand scale of productions in this vast venue allowed for glittering sets, huge casts and, as they became more popular and well-respected, the attraction of top-tier talent. Julie Andrews starred in the 1953 Cinderella, alongside Max Bygraves and Richard Hearne, while Spike Milligan and Eric Sykes wrote the script for the 1954 Mother Goose. Norman Wisdom, Cliff Richard, Tommy Steele, and Cilla Black all appeared in Palladium pantos.

The tradition started to falter in the 1980s, with the annual pantomime frequently replaced by a musical instead. The final one in this run was 1987’s Babes in the Wood, featuring a cast that included Cannon and Ball, Barbara Windsor, Marti Webb, Cheryl Baker, and Rob Hull and Emu.

Cinderella (2016)

Michael Harrison of Qdos Entertainment revived the Palladium panto with a big statement show featuring stars from theatre, variety, and comedy. Paul O’Grady and Julian Clary immediately set the smutty tone (this particular panto series has lots of gags for grown-ups), while Amanda Holden played the Fairy Godmother, and Lee Mead and Natasha J Barnes were the Prince and Cinders.

Nigel Havers was the good-natured butt of many jokes about his age and dwindling work, and ventriloquist Paul Zerdin established himself as a key member of the team. This was fairytale magic of the most decadent variety. The Palladium panto was back with a bang.

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Dick Whittington (2017)

Given Clary’s performance the previous year, choosing a panto with that particular title was really asking for trouble. Naturally, the brilliant comedian went even further with his risqué jokes – to the audience’s delight. He played the Spirit of the Bells, and his gung-ho nemesis was Elaine Paige as the Queen Rat.

Charlie Stemp and Emma Williams also represented musical theatre, while Havers and Zerdin once again provided sterling support. Other newcomers included Gary Wilmot as the panto dame, and Ashley Banjo and his Britain’s Got Talent-winning dance troupe Diversity.

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Snow White (2018)

Who is the fairest of them all? The Palladium panto continued to outshine the competition with another epic production, this one featuring snowmen on roller skates, a huge animatronic dragon, and Strictly Come Dancing’s Vincent Simone and Flavia Cacace steaming up the theatre with an Argentine tango.

Plus the now well-established dream team of Clary, Zerdin, Havers, and Wilmot were joined by musical theatre talents Danielle Hope and Charlie Stemp. Snow White also boasted a big-name draw in comedian Dawn French, vamping it up deliciously as the evil Queen.

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Goldilocks and the Three Bears (2019)

Clary pushed his jokes ever further in this riotous production, which added two competing circuses to the Goldilocks story – one run by Dame Betty Barnum (Wilmot), the other by the nasty Baron von Savage (a returning O’Grady). Cue the high-flying entertainment, from daredevil motorcyclists to acrobats on skates and magicians releasing doves.

Sophie Isaacs played Goldilocks, and Matt Baker joined the fun as Joey the Clown. But by now you could tell that it’s the annual troupe which audiences particularly love revisiting, from Clary, O’Grady, and Wilmot to Zerdin and Havers. Oh yes it is!

Pantoland

Pantoland at the Palladium (2020, 2021)

Unfortunately Covid put an early end to the first run of this new production, which ditched the traditional through-narrative and instead gave us a wide-ranging celebration of variety (along with a few panto highlights). The first cast featured our regulars, plus Paige, Diversity, and Stemp, and newcomers Beverley Knight and Jac Yarrow.

When Pantoland returned in 2021, Isaacs, Donny Osmond, and the high-kicking dance troupe The Tiller Girls came on board. Osmond proved especially game, gleefully duetting with Clary, while Yarrow rode a flying carpet, and Wilmot stopped the show with his song naming every station on the London Underground to the tune of the can-can.

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Jack and the Beanstalk (2022)

By now the Palladium panto was renowned for its lavish designs, but even so the enormous beanstalk was a real theatrical feat. It also handed yet more material to the ever-creative Clary. The usual suspects were back for this colossal tale, with Wilmot once more the master of the patter song, and Zerdin mastering tongue-twisters in his ventriloquism.

Jack also saw the return of French, and the introduction of the mighty-voiced Alexandra Burke, musical theatre regular Natalie McQueen, and the rising star Rob Madge, who had shot to fame during the pandemic by sharing their story and creating the show My Son’s a Queer (But What Can You Do?).

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Peter Pan (2023)

Following French’s triumphant run in Palladium pantos, it was the turn of her comedy partner Jennifer Saunders to take to the stage – which she did, magnificently, as Captain Hook in this Peter Pan. Naturally, sweetie darling, at one point Hook has to disguise himself as Eddie from Ab Fab.

Musical theatre stars Louis Gaunt and Frances Mayli McCann made their Palladium debuts as Pan and Wendy, while Clary has his best role yet as Seaman Smee, Madge made a marvellous Tinkerbell, and Zerdin, Wilmot, and Havers were as game as ever. Clary also provided a touching tribute to the late Paul O’Grady.

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Robin Hood (2024)

The Palladium panto returns with this folk tale-turned-festive entertainment. For once Clary is in the title role, taking up the bow of the heroic Robin Hood – but presumably firing off as many double entendres as he does arrows. Opposite him is national treasure Jane McDonald as Maid Marion: we’ll surely get some great singing from her.

Zerdin and Havers are back once again, as are the wonderful Madge and Stemp. They’re joined by fellow musical theatre royalty Marisha Wallace and Tosh Wanogho-Maud, both making their Palladium panto debuts. Expect rip-roaring adventure and extremely mischievous merry-making from this talented band of outlaws.

Check back soon to book Robin Hood tickets on London Theatre.

Photo credits: Paul Coltas and Steve Williams

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