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Christmas Theatre…Even For Grinches

A white Christmas in London might be a certainty in rom-coms only, but there are many things we can count on at this time of year. There’ll be too many pantomimes to choose from, more family shows than parents know what to do with and a lot of difficulty for people who just can’t sit through another stage adaptation of It’s a Wonderful Life (or something similarly festive). Fortunately all you lovely readers have been on our ‘nice’ list this year, so we’re going to help you out with a small selection of the best London has to offer this festive season.

You like: pop songs, glitter and shouting ‘Behind you!’

Let’s get the inevitable out of the way: like every other year, London theatres big and small have produced an astonishing line-up of pantomimes. Whether you like yours family-friendly, star-studded or downright dirty, we’re sure you’ll find your fit, Cinderella.

We’ll kick off with the obvious one: the Hackney Empire does Jack and the Beanstalk this year. Clive Rowe is always a sight to behold in his Dame dresses, and also probably the only Olivier-winning actor you’re going to see in a panto any time soon. Other theatres famous for their pantomimes are the Lyric Hammersmith and the New Wimbledon Theatre; the first one has a Cinderella that’s all neon and twinkly lights, the latter has Verne Troyer (AKA Mini Me) starring in Peter Pan. Theatre Royal Stratford East has a reputation for inclusive, fun pantos with a political edge, so one can only imagine what artistic director Kerry Michael will do with ‘steal from the rich, give to the poor’ Robin Hood. (Might we see George Osborne playing the Sheriff?) Theatre503 is once again hosting comedy trio Sleeping Trees, who have created an interesting mash-up in Cinderella and the Beanstalk. If mixing up fairy tales isn’t quite risqué enough for you, then the Royal Vauxhall Tavern is only one of many venues with an ‘adult boys and girls only’ programme. Charming Dick, their take on Dick Whittington, has some serious star power in Martin Finch, Poland’s 2010 Eurovision entry. Spectators can also expect sing-a-longs, a Wicked Witch from the West End and, presumably, plenty of Dick. Also in Vauxhall, Above The Stag continue their panto tradition with Tinderella: Cinders Slips It In, a title which probably makes age guidance superfluous. Last but not least, don’t forget about your local theatre! They could probably use your support, so tickets to their pantomime will not just make a lovely present for the recipients.

Jack and the Beanstalk: Hackney Empire, until 3 January
Cinderella: Lyric Hammersmith, until 3 January
Peter Pan: New Wimbledon, until 10 January
Robin Hood: Theatre Royal Stratford East, 7 December – 23 January
Cinderella and the Beanstalk: Theatre503, until 2 January
Charming Dick: Royal Vauxhall Tavern, 9 December – 7 January
Tinderella: Cinders Slips It In: Above The Stag Theatre, until 16 January

You like: family entertainment with a little less audience participation

Looking for something a bit more high brow to keep the kids entertained in the holidays? Then you’ll be happy to learn that not all theatres have gone down panto lane.

Southwark Playhouse’s The Ballad of Robin Hood offers a fresh, slightly darker take on the familiar story, and our reviewer was seriously impressed by the ‘strong women, cool sword fights and witty repartee’. The Old Vic brings Dr Seuss’s The Lorax to the stage, complete with puppets and music, and apparently suitable for ages six to sixty two and a half. In North London, Chickenshed has once again brought together a huge cast of all ages and abilities to put on their annual Christmas spectacle. This year it’s an elaborate re-working of the famous carol, so The Twelve Days of Christmas will undoubtedly put the whole family in festive spirits. Parents of slightly older children could have a look at the Noël Coward Theatre’s A Christmas Carol; it’s one of those plays that you have to see at least once, and Jim Broadbent’s presence will appeal to a wide range of ages, whether from the Harry Potter or the Black Adder generation. Finally, if you’re after some proper ‘high culture’, why not surprise your teenager with extra-curricular Shakespeare? The National Theatre’s production of As You Like It features a forest of computer screens and floating desk chairs, a WWE-style wrestling match and the return of Treasure Island favourite Patsy Ferran.

The Ballad of Robin Hood: Southwark Playhouse, until 26 December
The Lorax: Old Vic, until 16 January
The Twelve Days of Christmas: Chickenshed Theatre, until 9 January
A Christmas Carol: Noël Coward Theatre, until 30 January
As You Like It: National Theatre, until 5 March

You like: death. Destruction. Anything but Christmas.

Hate carols, hot chocolate and general cheer? Not to worry! With an abundance of sex, filth and murder, even those in the least festive of moods can get their theatre fix this holiday season.

For a steamy Christmas date with a bit more cultural credibility than just popping in the Fifty Shades of Grey DVD, Les Liaisons Dangereuses at the Donmar Warehouse is just the ticket. Two aristocratic ex-lovers challenge each other to see who’s best at corrupting the innocent; how explicitly sexy this one will be is anyone’s guess, but it should at the very least feature some intense smouldering. The more literal kind of theatre filth will be provided by The Dazzle. Housed in brand new pop-up theatre Found111, this features Andrew Scott as a man who shares a house with his brother, and with 136 tonnes of junk. If even that’s not radically un-Christmassy enough for you, you can always go for something with a higher body count. Martin McDonagh’s Hangmen, a dark comedy about England’s last executioner, has just transferred from the Royal Court to the Wyndham’s Theatre, while the Young Vic offers a physical theatre production of Macbeth, directed by Carrie Cracknell and Lucy Guerin.

Les Liaisons Dangereuses: Donmar Warehouse, 11 December – 13 February
The Dazzle: Found111, 10 December – 30 January
Hangmen: Wyndhams Theatre, until 5 March
Macbeth: Young Vic, until 23 January

So, that’s your holidays sorted. Well, except a tree. And presents. And the patience to deal with your entire family for a whole day. Anyway, you’re welcome. And merry Christmas!

About Eva de Valk

Eva moved to London to study the relationship between performance and the city. She likes most kinds of theatre, especially when it involves 1) animals, 2) audience participation and/or 3) a revolving stage. Seventies Andrew Lloyd Webber holds a special place in her heart, which she makes up for by being able to talk pretentiously about Shakespeare. When she grows up she wants to be either a Jedi or Mark Gatiss.

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