EVERYONE should start the new year with a smile on their face, and a Surrey visit by award-winning comedian Sara Pascoe should help.

The star of Stand Up For The Week, The Thick Of It and Mock The Week is coming to G Live in Guildford as Gag House Comedy Superstars returns on Friday 25 January.

Sara will be joined by Simon Evans, a dapper gent with general dislike for the Welsh and northerners, in fact anything that isn’t his stately manor.

Also on the bill will be Tom Deacon who first picked up the mic in 2007 and became an instant hit winning Chortle’s Student Comedian Award. He has since appeared regularly at the Edinburgh Festival and at gigs all over the country, as well as performing on TV programmes such as The Rob Brydon Show and Dave’s One Night Stand.

JACKFEST is back in Woking on Saturday 26 January at the Fiery Bird.

The event used to be staged at Westfield Club but has moved to the town’s 1,000-capacity venue for this year’s gig in aid of Shooting Star Chase.

Bands will include the female-fronted London outfit Argonaut, whose guitarist Nathan hails from Woking, and are promoting their latest album, Forever, plus three-piece Rollin’ Machine from Southend who play garage punk and have a new EP, Off The Clock, out soon.

Also on the bill will be Woking band Birdsworth and mod four-piece The Sha La La’s, back for their third Jackfest.

He’s got the look, the moonwalk and the voice! CJ is bringing his version of the “king of pop” Michael Jackson’s huge repertoire to Woking in Jackson Live in Concert.

His renditions of Thriller, Beat it, Billie Jean and the rest will ring out around the New Victoria Theatre on Saturday 12 January when CJ will be joined on stage by a live band and his troupe of dancers.

ANDY Reiss could read music at the age of five – but took the long route to stage stardom.

The creator of “best of the musicals” show Beyond The Barricade eventually hit the West End but only because of a chance audition after years of working in child care law.

“I was always surrounded by music from an early age with my parents and grandparents being involved in Hednesford Salvation Army brass band,” explains the singer, who made his name in Les Miserables. “By the age of five I had learnt how to read and play music. I think that definitely gave me a good grounding in music for my future.

“I played in a few bands during my later teenage years, but I always loved performing in the local musical theatre societies too.”

Andy Reiss, second right, with his fellow Beyond The Barricade stars David Fawcett, Katie Leeming and Poppy Tierney

However, Andy didn’t follow his passion for a career at first.

“I went to university and studied economics with child care law, and worked within that field for a number of years,” he explains.

“However, most of my spare time was given over to performing on stage. I then attended an open audition for the first production of Les Miserables outside the West End, just because I wanted to give it a go, and was very surprised when they offered me a contract.

“I thought it would just be 12 months’ work and I’d go back to my day job. I never dreamed I would end up touring with the show in Manchester, Dublin and Edinburgh, and then transferring to the West End. It was also a great privilege to return to Les Mis, as the resident director for the first National Tour.”

He then set up Beyond the Barricade, a concert portrayal of the great songs in musical theatre, all performed live by former West End stars. Andy is joined by David Fawcett, Katie Leeming and Poppy Tierney to sing classics from the likes of The Phantom of The Opera, Jesus Christ Superstar, The Jersey Boys, Miss Saigon, Hamilton and, of course, Les Miserables.

“The original concept came about when David and I were performers in Les Miserables,” says Andy. “I saw the potential of creating a concert version of some of the most popular songs from the musical theatre genre.

“I wanted to make sure the songs were true to the original versions, so that the audience could invest in sitting and listening to a concert version, but be completely immersed in the storytelling of each particular song,” Andy says.

“We take our audience on a journey through some of the greatest stage musicals.”

The 20th anniversary tour of Beyond the Barricade reaches the New Victoria Theatre, Woking, on Sunday 13 January.

If you have booked tickets for Cinderella at Woking’s New Victoria Theatre this festive season, you are in for an almighty treat.  If you haven’t, book them now!   It’s an absolutely fantastic family show with generous amounts of glitz and glamour, plenty of cheesy jokes and spectacular visual effects thrown in to boot.

As the programme suggests, this is the Fairy Godmother of all Pantomimes, with Craig Revel Horwood of Strictly Come Dancing fame playing a superbly devilish Baroness Demonica Hardup, with some truly outrageous costumes and quite alarming headgear.  The diminutive Sophie Isaacs plays a charmingly sweet Cinderella, hoping to meet her handsome Prince Charming, Oliver Savile.

You can’t help but feel sorry for the very loveable Buttons, played by comedian Phil Butler. In his attempts to woo Cinderella, he pulls out all the stops, including opera singing with some coaching from Paul Chuckle as Baron Hardup in a truly memorable performance.  

The wicked sisters, Suzie Chard as Claudia and Wendy Somerville as Tess, are desperately keen to find their own Prince Charming. But as the traditional fairytale goes,it is Cinderella who goes to the ball, as Fairy Godmother comes to the rescue and the pumpkin transforms into a horse-drawn carriage.  The end of the first part of the show will leave you mesmerised.

The second part is even more hilarious and had the audience in stitches. When Baron Hardup brings out his magic cabinet, promising poor old Buttons that it won’t hurt if he puts the sword through his head, the audience was laughing until their jaws ached.

All the cast, the beautifully choreographed dancing and sparkling costumes, bring this wonderful pantomime to life.  It’s the perfect tonic for this year’s festive season. 

THE main man of Christmas – Mr Claus himself – will be heading to Woking’s Rhoda McGaw Theatre next week to appear in a stage version of the book, Dear Santa.

Written by Rod Campbell, the author of children’s book Dear Zoo, Dear Santa is packed with Christmas songs and lots of audience participation. There’s also the chance to meet and receive a Christmas gift from Santa himself.

Santa and his cheeky are appearing at the Rhoda McGaw Theatre from Wednesday next week

It’s the story of Santa’s determination to deliver a fantastic Christmas present to Sarah. But things don’t go well, and he doesn’t get it right straight away. With the help of his cheeky Elf, he finally settles on something “perfect”, just in time for Christmas Eve.

Aimed at children aged two to seven, the production runs from Wednesday 5 December until Christmas Eve, Monday 24 December.

FOR Craig Revel Horwood, taking on the role of a panto villain in the form of the Wicked Stepmother is simply a return to his roots.

Now famous as a judge on TV favourite Strictly Come Dancing, he says he’s simply revisiting a style from early in his career when he first performed drag in the clubs.

“I do feel like I’ve come full circle,” he says, adding with a laugh: “I just wish I was as beautiful as I was 30 years ago.”

CLASSIC ROLE – Craig Revel Horwood as the Wicked Stepmother in Cinderella

Now aged 53, the Aussie-born star reckons he tries his best to keep in shape – even at Christmas.

“You have to look after yourself, as you can’t go off partying the whole time,” he says. “But panto is fantastic, it keeps me thin all the way through Christmas.

“Also, I love it because it’s an introduction for children to live theatre and, as live theatre is my passion, I really encourage that. It also teaches children generally about theatre, which I think is the most important thing about doing panto.

“Coming to the theatre is a unique and individual experience and you can interact with the cast too. It’s great.”

Craig keeps a hectic schedule, planning his professional commitments up to three years in advance. “I’m working on material now for Christmas 2020,” he explained. “It’s crazy.”

Last year, in addition to panto, he appeared in Annie, recorded the voice of supercilious snake Cornelius – for new animated series Sadie Sparks – and resumed his role on national favourite Strictly, a job he’s had since the first series in 2004.

And he’s far from jaded. “I still get very excited and very nervous when I hear the opening music,” he says. “It’s a whole new bunch of people, a whole new cast, so it’s always fresh.”

He’s still a dancer at heart. “The Argentine Tango is my favourite, I just love that,” he says. “It’s the way the body is intertwined, how fast it is and how the woman responds to the man’s lead and how much is improvised, it’s a very cool dance, when it’s done well.”

Despite his reputation as a brutal judge, he adds: “Seeing people who’ve never danced before realising that dance can actually be taught, and just seeing the enjoyment that people get out of it is great.

“It’s a gift. People are no longer socially inept when it comes to dancing and that’s fantastic.”

Having worked as a dancer, choreographer, theatre director, TV judge and panto star, Craig is a popular figure but claims being in the public gaze is not something he generally enjoys.

“The only thing I find good about being a celebrity is that you can raise money for charity and I’ve done quite a lot of that,” he says. “My mum has chronic rheumatoid arthritis, but osteoporosis can be prevented by exercise up to the age of 23 so that’s why it was a charity I chose in order to change people’s lives.”

On top of all this, he choreographed the final scene of the Paddington 2 movie, is to make his film acting debut in Nativity Rocks and has been playing Miss Hannigan in Annie in the West End.

“Life is very short and you have to just go out and don’t fear anything,” he says. “I’m open to whatever comes along. I’d love to direct a film as well, but I think I need to act first to see how it all works then can apply everything I’ve learned from that, and from directing musicals, to film, and perhaps promote dance in film. I’d love to do that.”

His stint as the Wicked Stepmother in Cinderella at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking, begins on Friday 7 December and continues until Sunday 6 January.

WAKE Up Woking is now in its ninth year of raising money for the Woking Hospice and the Paul Weller connection continues.

Woking’s most famous musical son has been a supporter since the hospice’s inception, playing the event and providing signed items for auction or raffle. This year, the headline act will be The Style Councillors, a tribute to Weller’s band formed after he left The Jam in 1982.

The Style Councillors are headlining at Wake Up Woking on Saturday

They’ll be joined by mod band The Special Guests, who have been supported by event sponsors the Water Rats Studio, who provided rehearsal time.

Wake Up Woking 9 is at the Fiery Bird in Church Street East, Woking, on Saturday (1 December).

IT’S nearly Christmas, so it must be time for … ballet. For fans of classic dance, The Nutcracker has become synonymous with the festive season and Northern Ballet’s production fits the seasonal bill nicely.

Set in the midst of a yuletide party, as the fire crackles and the pile of presents grows ever higher, Clara is caught up in the warmth and excitement of Christmas and becomes enthralled by her new Nutcracker doll. But, as the clock strikes midnight, her Nutcracker proves to be no ordinary toy.

For lead dancer Rachael Gillespie playing Clara is a dream come true.

The Nutcracker was the first ballet I ever saw.” she recalls. “It was a different production, on TV over Christmas when I was young and my mum recorded it for me on VHS. I just remember loving it so much that I watched it over and over again.

GRACEFUL – Rachael Gillespie as Clara with Ashley Dixon as the Nutcracker Prince. Picture by Emma Kauldhar

“I think I must have been about seven. I just remember how I loved all the costumes, music and that there were ballerinas in pointe shoes! Little did I know back then it’s not as effortless as it looks!

“But I was always a very energetic child and loved dancing and jumping around to music – it was someone at our family church that suggested I should go to ballet classes.”

Rachael says she particularly looks forward to the snow scene each night, when Clara and her Nutcracker Prince dance together for the first time.

“It’s a beautiful scene. It’s so Christmassy; the costumes, the music, but most of all, the beautiful Snowflake ladies,” she explains. “The dance itself, although it may look effortless, entails months of hard work before it goes on stage.

“There are so many beautiful patterns and it requires great team work and dedication among your colleagues to get it right. It’s a real team effort and requires a lot of stamina too – but the end result is so rewarding. For the audience, its simply breath taking! It’s very magical.”

And of course it has that festive touch.

“Everyone loves to see a show at Christmas, and The Nutcracker is definitely one to go to see to celebrate and enjoy the festivities!” says Rachael. “For many it even becomes a tradition. Whether you’re a ballet fanatic or it’s your first theatre experience, it’s definitely one of the best shows to see.

“The live music is so well known, the costumes and sets are a real treat for the eyes, and the infectious energy from the dancers keeps the audience enjoying the production from beginning to end! It really sets you up for Christmas!”

Northern Ballet will bring The Nutcracker to the New Victoria Theatre, Woking, from Tuesday (27 November) until Saturday 1 December.

PANTO stars have been out and about in Woking town centre showing off their costumes and getting in the festive mood ready for Cinderella at the New Victoria Theatre.

This year’s Christmas show stars Craig Revel Horwood as the Wicked Stepmother and Paul Chuckle as Baron Hardup, alongside Suzie Chard, Wendy Somerville, Sophie Isaacs and Phil Butler.

HAVING A BALL – Craig Revel Horwood, as the Wicked Stepmother, with Wicked Stepsisters Suzie Chard, far left, and Wendy Somerville, far right, with Phil Butler (Buttons) and Sophie Isaacs (Cinderella) in Jubilee Square. Picture by Ian Olsson.

The panto will, as ever, feature laughs, songs, over-the-top costumes and scenery and plenty of boos and hisses as Cinders goes from rags to riches, outwits her wicked stepsisters and meets her dashing Prince Charming.

You can go to the ball any day from 7 December until 6 January, provided, of course, that you get in quick for tickets, which can be bought by visiting www.atgtickets.com/shows/cinderella/new-victoria-theatre/ or by calling 0844 871 7645.