A veritable feast of seasonal offerings adorns the Christmas dinner table of Theatreland this year, with not one but two Cinderellas, a pair of Sleeping Beauties, an unprecedented number of Hansel And Gretels and even a partridge in a pear tree.
Caroline Bishop scours the West End and beyond to present you with this handy round-up of festive shows for tiny tots, children and all the family.
The bread and butter of the festive season, the humble pantomime, is served with more than a sprinkling of stardom this year. Gareth Gates, Joanna Page and Alistair McGowan head up the New Wimbledon theatre’s Cinderella, while Simon Callow and Bonnie Langford take to Richmond theatre’s stage in Peter Pan.
Jack And The Beanstalk can be found in Greenwich and Hansel And Gretel venture into the sweetie house of Theatre Royal Stratford East. And mention must be made of Mother Goose, embodied by panto dame extraordinare Clive Rowe, who will be seeing who’s behind her at Hackney Empire this Christmas.
Especially for little ones
Even the most fidgety of toddlers can’t fail to be entertained by this assortment of shows for children as young as three. The Little Angel theatre wisely feels Roald Dahl has some experience in these matters, as it presents an adaptation of his The Giraffe And The Pelly And Me. The Rose theatre, Kingston, employs an elf or two in its show The Night Before Christmas, while Polka theatre turns to that most famous of wooden boys, Pinocchio, to entertain six to 13-year-olds in an adaptation by Children’s Laureate Michael Rosen. The Lyric Hammersmith, meanwhile, makes no bones of the fact its show for little ones is just Brilliant.
All the family
Traditional festive fare is given a twist in Christmas 2008. Chickenshed tells a very modern story based around the very classic carol The Twelve Days Of Christmas, the Unicorn theatre gives us a Sleeping Beauty who isn’t going to wait for some boy to kiss her out of her slumber, Jackson’s Lane tells A Christmas Carol with a contemporary spin and the Barbican takes the audience, as well as the actors, on a walk through a dark forest in its Hansel And Gretel. Albeit a classic, the Lyric Hammersmith’s Cinderella promises a gasp-inducing new staging with Norwegian music and an ice-themed bar.
If Christmas brings out the bah humbug in you, get yourself some distinctly unseasonal, jungle-based family entertainment with Young Vic’s Amazonia and the UCL Bloomsbury’s The Jungle Book. Meanwhile the Hampstead takes off the winter chill with the classic story of a pilot who encounters The Little Prince in the Sahara desert.
West End family treats
The West End doesn’t wait for Christmas to offer up family-friendly entertainment. Shows including Hairspray, Stomp, Mamma Mia!, The Lion King and Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat are all open for business this festive season. But a host of new children’s shows have made timely openings, meaning Theatreland is positively a-quiver with seasonal soupcons for families venturing into town. There are daytime sightings of The Gruffalo at the Duchess theatre, Horrid Henry is causing mayhem at Trafalgar Studios and The Snowman is flying without strings at the Peacock theatre.
As for dance, take your pick of Nutcrackers – both the London Coliseum and the Royal Opera House present the classic ballet – while English National Ballet’s production of The Sleeping Beauty and new family dance production The Thief Of Baghdad in the Linbury Studio are also brimming with festive feeling.
Also in the West End, pirate adventure Treasure Island continues searching for booty through the Christmas season (Tuesday nights are pirate nights), while the big new musical of the season is Oliver!, which previews from 12 December at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, giving fans the chance to see the ‘people’s Nancy’, Jodie Prenger, in full Dickensian action.
Minimum age recommendations are stated within show listings but are for guidance only. If you have any doubt about a show’s suitability, please check with the box office before booking.