A look at some of the biggest and best panto and Christmas shows taking place across Devon during the festive season.

Great British Life: Sue Holderness as Malevolent. Photo: Princess TheatreSue Holderness as Malevolent. Photo: Princess Theatre

December 9th - 31st


The classic fairytale at the Princess Theatre, Torquay, this Christmas stars Sue Holderness from Only Fools and Horses as wicked witch Malevolent. Dame Dotty is panto veteran Michael Neilson who has played such classic roles as Widown Twankey in Aladdin and Dame Trott in Jack and the Beanstalk, Dotty’s son Potty Pierre is Kevin James, Hannah Everest is Beauty and Benjamin Purkiss is Beast.

Sue has performed at the theatre before – in the 2010 touring production of Calendar Girls – and she’s thrilled to be back. ‘It was lovely when I came for the panto launch. There were lots of fairy lights and all the boats in the harbour,’ she says. ‘It was so nice to meet up with the rest of the cast. I’ve worked with Michael before and everyone is lovely.’

Sue is such a familiar face thanks to her role as Marlene Boyce for 18 years in Only Fools and Horses and then four years in The Green Green Grass.

‘When I started in Only Fools I didn’t think Marlene would be in it for very long. I think there was a vision of Boycie’s wife as this trollop who was never seen. I read the script and I just knew who this character was and how she reacted with Boycie, Del Boy and Rodney. I went from just being in one little scene to having our own spin-off series. I never mind people calling me Marlene. Now they might recognise me from the Madam Blanc Mysteries. It’s fun to do and we film it for weeks at a time in Malta.

‘I’ve been very lucky. The theatre has been very kind to me too. I have been doing all this for well over 50 years and I’ve never really been out of work.

‘My first stage appearance was when I was three. My mum had sent my sister and I to dancing classes and I did a tap dance all on my own and I remember being so excited by it all. It was what I wanted to do.

‘I’ve done lots of pantos. I started in 1974 in Swindon when I played Dandini – these were the days when you had a girl playing principal boy!’

‘Panto is the perfect show for all the family. I have very small grandchildren – one, three and five years old. The two oldest, both boys, came to Cinderella at the Becks Theatre in Hayes last year when I was playing the Wicked Stepmother and they were giggling uncontrollably. At the end Cinderella invited them up on stage, but the oldest was hiding under the seat. It was up to his brother to save the day!

‘Growing up I loved Christmas and as an adult I’ve loved doing panto. I stopped when the kids were little and started again when they were 14 and 16 and I’ve done it every year since. I’m 74 now and still employed and count myself very lucky. I’m having a lot of fun.’


READ MORE: Accessible panto shows across Devon in Christmas 2023

Great British Life: Brendan Cole. Photo: TRPBrendan Cole. Photo: TRP

December 15th - January 13th


This show is a slightly different take on the traditional fairytale. Goldilocks’ circus is under threat from an evil rival circus owner and, with the help of their madcap circus friends, they’re battling to rescue their Big Top from ruin. Will they succeed? All seems lost, until three brilliant bears join the gang…

Goldilocks and the Three Bears features stunning sets and beautiful costumes created for The London Palladium production. It stars Strictly Come Dancing favourite Brendan Cole and – making their panto debuts - Double Olympic Champion and TV commentator Dame Kelly Holmes and Coronation Street star Alexandra Mardell. They will be joined by West End star Samuel Holmes, who returns to his Plymouth roots, Britain's Got Talent finalist and comedy ventriloquist Steve Hewlett and TV comedian and award-winning panto comic Adam C Booth.

Brendan, who will be taking on the role of the Evil Ringmaster, appeared on every season of Strictly from the first in 2004 up until 2017. In 2022, Brendan was one of the finalists in Dancing on Ice. Dame Kelly Holmes will be The Ringmistress. She won medals at Commonwealth, European, World and Olympic level, culminating in two Gold Medals at 2004 Athens Olympic Games for the 800m and 1500m which cemented her place in history as the first women ever in Great Britain to win two gold medals at the same games. 

West End star Samuel Holmes plays Larry the Lion Tamer. His musical stage credits include Shrek the Musical, Spamalot, My Fair Lady and The Pirates of Penzance.   

Steve Hewlett joins the cast as Silly Billy and Adam C Booth – named Best Comic at The Great British Pantomime Awards in 2022 - is Joey the Clown in this circus spectacular.


Great British Life: Le Navet Bete get ready for Dick Whittington. Photo: Ralph WhiteheadLe Navet Bete get ready for Dick Whittington. Photo: Ralph Whitehead

November 30th - January 7th


After a record-breaking collaboration on Robin Hood last year, Exeter-based comedy theatre troupe Le Navet Bete return to the Northcott for Dick Whittington written by Daniel Buckroyd and directed by Alex Jackson.

Alex, who grew up watching pantos at the Northcott, is delighted to be playing his part. ‘I want children to come and see Dick Whittington and have the experience that will spark a life-long love of theatre. It is one of the more traditional pantos but it will have the energy and vibe that Navet Bete bring to all their work. I really admire the deep friendship at the core of the company, it comes out in all of their work.’

The company are Navet Bete’s Nick Bunt as Alderman Fitzwarren, Matt Freeman as the dame - Sarah Suet - and Al Dunn as the dame’s son Jack. They are joined by Elliot Coombe (Dick), Poppy Joy as his trusty feline companion Sox, Sophia Lewis as Alice Fitzwarren, Stephanie Lysé as Queenie Rat with Jodie Micciché, Molly Cheesley and Andrew Dillon.

Al Dunn says working with other actors for Robin Hood was an experiment both for Navet Bete and the Northcott, but it worked. ‘It was the first time we’d worked with any other actors at all and it was brilliant. It brought so much to the table in terms of skills and amazing voices and the ability to create more people. It was a no brainer to come back and do it again.

‘Bringing Alex in was a positive decision. He has an amazing energy and is really shaking things up. One of the ways we approach work, especially comedy, is that nothing is ever final. From show one to show 50 it’s always a journey of discovery. There is always some freedom to try stuff.’


Great British Life: Father Christmas. Photo: Simon AnnandFather Christmas. Photo: Simon Annand

Until December 31


Author and illustrator Raymond Briggs is synonymous with Christmas with his delightful children’s books Father Christmas, The Bear and, of course, The Snowman. This Lyric Hammersmith Theatre and Pins and Needles production at The Drum, Plymouth, captures all the excitement of Christmas. Join Santa as he awakes from a dream of sun, sea and sand only to find it is the busiest day of the year: Christmas Eve. He must prepare Christmas deliveries, feed his reindeer and fly off into the snowy night. But things don’t go smoothly with soot-covered chimneys and treacherous weather.


Great British Life: Rachel Modest. Photo: Exeter PantoRachel Modest. Photo: Exeter Panto

December 16th - January 1st


Exeter Panto have been producing Christmas shows at the city’s Corn Exchange for 14 years and this December they will again delight audiences with a magical picture-book classic in the traditional style. Sleeping Beauty will star Rachel Modest (who wowed Tom Jones on The Voice) as Queen Clarabelle with Katie Hallett as Princess Aurora. Devon actor and Corn Exchange favourite Matt Finegan is back as the evil Carabosse. The multi award-winning creative team return with the timeless story set in the enchanted Fairyland, full of magic, merriment… and a big dragon!


December 13th -31st


The Queen’s Theatre in Barnstaple will be transformed into a land of enchanted castles, handsome princes, wicked fairies and fire-breathing dragons for this family favourite panto. Former CBeebies and Blue Peter presenter Barney Harwood leads the cast as Lester the Jester with Lauren Hendricks as Flora Fairy, Sue Appleby as the evil Carabosse and Dame Dereck Walker as Queen Camilla. Expect lavish scenery, spectacular costumes, dazzling special effects, lots of comedy and showstopping song and dance routines, Sleeping Beauty will leave you spellbound. There are relaxed and signed performances during the run.


December 17th - 28th


E Nesbit’s heartwarming story is this year’s family Christmas show at Exeter Phoenix. Quirk Theatre, based in the city, have been creating exciting, inventive and innovative shows for 20 years. In the story five children find a Psammead - an anarchic fairy-monster-thingy with eyes on stalks – which can grant wishes that last for only one day and disappear at sunset. But as the old saying goes, they might need to be careful what they wish for... Expect projection, puppetry, creative set design and original music. Essentially simple, beautifully effective and brilliant fun.