Going to the theatre at any time of year is brilliant, but it’s even better at Christmas.
Everyone’s just a bit more excitable than usual. There’s also just something about the London streets in winter, with the twinkly Christmas street lights. And laughing burns calories – fact. So we reckon you’ll burn off at least one Christmas dinner at a pantomime (oh yes you will).
It’s also the only place where everyone puts their phones away for a few hours of escapism. That, and everyone also needs at least one night off from the pub. So here’s our guide to the best shows on this Christmas.
pantomime (ˈpantəmʌɪm/)“a theatrical entertainment, mainly for children, which involves music, topical jokes, and slapstick comedy and is based on a fairy tale or nursery story, usually produced around Christmas”.
Get ready to boo, cheer, clap, sing and all the crazy stuff you’d expect at a pantomime. And haven’t they got an all-star line-up at the London Palladium? Oh yes they have. Natasha J Barnes (Funny Girl) plays Cinders, Paul O’Grady is the Wicked Stepmother, while Julian Clary will be lending a hand (and further double entendres) as Dandini. Finally Amanda Holden is returning to the stage as the Fairy Godmother and Lee Mead is going to make a handsome Prince Charming.
Getting there: London Palladium, Argyll Street, London, W1F 7TF
Nearest Tube: Oxford Circus
He’s taking his lamp, he’s polishing it twice… and he’s working out what to do with his three wishes this Christmas. The panto that’s been a staple of Christmas for more than 200 years is constantly modernised, but still retains its enduring appeal. And stupid songs. And audience participation and (well you get the idea). Widow Twankey as Aladdin’s mum is one of the most popular characters in pantomime and the Lyric’s panto versions are usually one big, rowdy party.
Getting there: Lyric Hammersmith, Lyric Square, King Street, London, W6 0Q
Nearest Tube: Hammersmith
Classic Christmas shows
Everyone’s familiar with the haunting “Walking in the Air” theme song. But it’s something else to hear Howard Blake’s score performed by a live band. This tale of a young boy’s snowman coming to life and taking him on an adventure, is every kid’s dream come true. Chuck in some reindeer, penguins, Father Christmas and evil Jack Frost (boo) and you’ve got a show that really captures the Christmas spirit.
Getting there: Peacock Theatre, Portugal Street, London, WC2A 2HT
Nearest Tube: Holborn or Covent Garden
This Christmas ballet is aimed firmly at the family. Join Clara and her enchanted Nutcracker as they discover a magical world on an Edwardian Christmas Eve. There’s more than a hundred dancers and musicians creating magic on stage, and if you’ve never been to the ballet before – this is the perfect introduction.
Getting there: The Coliseum, St. Martin’s Lane, London, WC2N 4ES
Nearest Tube: Leicester Square or Charing Cross
Peter Pan Goes Wrong
The great British tradition of farce is still alive in the West End. So if you like your comedy on the broader end of the spectrum – this is the one for you. Productions of the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society (Mischief Theatre) never really go to plan and in this case they go disastrously wrong. Especially when you throw in a flying fairy….
Getting there: Apollo Theatre, 31 Shaftesbury Avenue, London, W1D 7ES
Nearest Tube: Piccadilly Circus or Leicester Square
See something new this Christmas
School of Rock
Drum roll please – School of Rock has enrolled in the West End. Andrew Lloyd Webber has added 14 new songs to all your favourite rock tunes from the film. And the story remains the same. Fake substitute teacher, Dewey, teaches the kids at a posh school how to be rockers and form their own group. The youngsters all play their own instruments – and just you wait for the big “Battle of the Bands” finale.
Getting there: New London Theatre, Drury Lane, London, WC2B 5PF
Nearest Tube: Covent Garden or Holborn
Be one of the first to see Dreamgirls make its debut on the West End Stage this Christmas. It was written 35 years ago, but this tale of a Chicago all-girl group striving to make it big in show business is timeless.
It’s also got loads of great songs, including: And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going’, ‘I Am Changing’,‘Listen’ and ‘One Night Only’.And they’re sung by a top-notch cast including Glee’s Amber Riley and the Tony® and Olivier award-winning Casey Nicholaw.
Getting there: Savoy Theatre, Savoy Court, Strand, London, WC2R 0ET
Nearest Tube: Charing Cross
A show to take your mum to
Carole King can be rightly described as the voice of a generation. As well as her album Tapestry, she also wrote loads more songs for other artists in the late 1950s and 1960s. In fact, that back catalogue makes her one of the most successful singer songwriters of all time.
You’ll hear around 30 top tracks from three decades, including (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman, Will You Still Love Me tomorrow, Take Good Care Of My Baby and The Locomotion in this biopic of her life.
Getting there: Aldwych Theatre, Aldwych, London, WC2B 4DF.
Nearest Tube: Temple or Holborn
Take your dad to a musical
Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons were the original boyband with bite. Set on the mean streets of New Jersey, this is a real rags to riches story of local boys made good. Well, before the inevitable splits and arguments took centre stage.
This bruiser of a musical finishes in March. But we’re going to miss the songs like December 1963 (Oh What A Night), Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, Walk Like A Man and Big Girls Don’t Cry.
Getting there: Piccadilly Theatre, 16 Denman Street, London, W1D 7DY
Nearest Tube: Piccadilly
A show to take your grandparents to
Half A Sixpence
The original version of the show was a huge hit for singer Tommy Steele (the UK’s version of Elvis). And it hasn’t been shown in the West End since 1963. But now it’s back with a Flash Bang Wallop in time for Christmas. Of course it’s had a major revamp by Julian “Downtown Abbey” Fellowes.
The plot is simple, orphan Arthur Kipps suddenly inherits a fortune and moves from a shop assistant to the upper echelons of society (a bit like a male Eliza Doolittle). Expect singing and dancing to big numbers. This one will leave you all warm and fuzzy.
Getting there: Noel Coward Theatre, St Martin’s Lane, London, WC2N 4AU
Nearest Tube: Leicester Square or Charing Cross
Shows to take the kids or grandchildren:
Fresh off the magic carpet from Broadway, this show features all the best characters from Aladdin, like the Genie and Princess Jasmine. And of course the award winning songs (which won the film two Oscars) are all here to sing along to. The stage adaption is by the same team as the other Disney classic currently on stage, The Lion King.
Getting there: Prince Edward Theatre, 28 Old Compton Street, London, W1D 4HS
Nearest tube: Covent Garden, Leicester Square and Tottenham Court Road
The Railway Children
They’ve got a real, vintage train that chugs into the station – full steam ahead – during the performance. And if a 60-tonne train arriving don’t impress the kids then we’re not sure what to suggest. Even the ticket office is set up like a station waiting room, with cases piled up and a refreshment carriage to get a drink and food. This imaginative take on the classic novel by E Nesbit is a bit of a tear-jerker at the end – because we all love a happy ending, especially at Christmas.
Getting there: Kings Cross Theatre, Good’s Way, London, N1C 4QL
Nearest tube: Kings Cross
This dark comedy-cum-farce-cum tragedy will have you laughing one minute and wriggling in your seat with discomfort the next. Set in 1992 following the death of comic legend, Benny Hill, the Dead Funny Society meet to pay tribute. However host Richard (Rufus Jones, W1A) is having trouble with his loose-cannon wife Ellie (Katherine Parkinson, The IT Crowd, Humans).
Add to this volatile mix sensitive Brian (Steve Pemberton, The League of Gentlemen, Benidorm) and another couple with their own troubles, Nick (Ralf Little, The Royle Family) and Lisa (Emily Berrington, Humans) and you have a party that’s going to go very wrong. Along with one of the strongest casts in the West End there’s also nudity, swearing and some very choice jokes – this one’s definitely for the adults.
Getting there: Vaudeville Theatre, 404 Strand, London, WC2R 0NH
Nearest tube: Charing Cross
Last chance to see:
Charlie & The Chocolate Factory
The various film versions of Charlie’s adventures with Willy Wonka usually get an airing at Christmas. But the bad news is the stage factory’s doors are closing for the last time at the end of January, when it transfers to Broadway. Lucky Americans, we say. Because if you haven’t seen it yet, you need to get your sugar skates on.
As with all Roald Dahl’s work, it is a little bit twisted enough for adults to get a big kick out of the jokes and asides, and children will love seeing the book brought to life. Seriously, when you see both the factory and the oompa-loompas for the first time – you’re going to wonder how they’ve done it.
Getting there: Theatre Royal Drury Lane, Catherine Street, London, WC2B 5JF
Nearest tube: Leicester Square
There’s a special cast appearing in Wicked! until the end of January, all part of the show’s ten year celebrations. The tale of two witches in a pre-Dorothy Oz has been a firm favourite with anyone who loves musicals with crazy costumes, big songs and lots of laughs. Rachel Tucker (I’d Do Anything) is reprising her award-winning role as Elphaba, after also starring as the green witch on Broadway. Also making her debut in the show as Madame Morrible is Anita Dobson, most famous for playing The Queen Vic’s landlady Angie Watts in Eastenders.
Getting there: Apollo Victoria Theatre, 17 Wilton Road, Westminster, London, SW1V 1LG
Nearest tube: Victoria
Tell us what Christmas theatre shows you’re going to
We’d love to hear all about your festive theatre tips or what shows you want to see come Christmas. Let us know by leaving a comment below.
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