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The 12 Days Of Christmas (Theatre)

Published 21 November 2013

The countdown to Christmas has officially begun. Panic has broken out at the offices of Official London Theatre. While outside Covent Garden may be filled with twinkling lights and the annual giant baubles that seem like a hazard to walk under for fear of death by shiny red decoration, mentally we’re still stuck in the afterglow of a summer that was actually sunny.

While the season to be jolly may have crept up on us like a glowless-nosed reindeer in the snow without a glowing red nose, one thing we’re not worried about is what to see at the theatre this festive period. This year the West End is packed with productions as exciting as stockings and stars as shiny as those found in songs about Bethlehem. For the traditionalists among you we’ve sandwiched in some festive classics, but as our 12 Days Of Christmas (Theatre) list below will show you, catching a show this Christmas doesn’t have to mean sugarplum fairies and cross-dressing dames…

On the first day of Christmas my true (Shakespeare-enthusiast) love gave to me: two screen giants on the stage…

Well, not literally although Tom Hiddleston is astonishingly lofty in the flesh. His imposing stature and globe-conquering Hollywood credentials will be heading to the West End next month to tackle the title role in Shakespeare’s searing tragedy Coriolanus. Staged at Covent Garden’s Donmar Warehouse, the production is the latest by the critically acclaimed venue to bring a heavyweight cast including Mark Gatiss and Borgan’s Birgitte Hjort Sørenson to the intimate stage.

If you’re still craving another serving of bloody war and political turmoil with your mulled wine, head to the Noël Coward theatre for Michael Grandage’s latest offering, Henry V, where the director will be reuniting with Jude Law for some utterly un-festive – depending on your household’s traditional level of festive stress of course – turbulence.

On the second day of Christmas my true (chucklesome) love gave to me: belly ache…

Not from ploughing your way through a box of ice-topped mince pies in the space of a Dr Who Christmas special, but rather from the stellar comedy on offer.

Head to the Vaudeville theatre to watch comedy master Ben Miller lead the cast of the new tongue-in-cheek political satire The Duck House. While we’re not sure how Christmassy the expenses scandal ever got – surely someone claimed a pay-for-view screening of Elf on a lonely hotel stay? – with moats and hanging baskets to play with, writers Dan Patterson and Colin Swash promise a hilarious look at life on the backbench. If you’re more a lover of possums than politics, over at the London Palladium Barry Humphries continues his farewell show Eat, Pray, Laugh!, with appearances from the ever-popular Dame Edna Everage, over the festive season.

On the third day of Christmas my true (thrill-seeking) love gave to me: family adventure

Two family offerings really stand-out this year; the National Theatre’s Emil And The Detectives, which follows in the footsteps of the NT’s hugely successful past winter productions War Horse and His Dark Materials, and the Royal Opera House’s transfer of The Wind In The Willows.

The first, a new adaptation of Erich Kästner’s classic tale of one young boy’s life-changing journey, will transform the Olivier theatre into 1920s Berlin, while The Wind In The Willows promises similarly stunning design, with the Quay Brothers, best known for their work on animated films, lending their artistic hands to recreating Kenneth Grahame’s evocative world on stage.

On the fourth day of Christmas my true (theatre award following) love gave to me: an Olivier Award winner…

Richard McCabe will make his return to the London stage following his Olivier Award win earlier this year for his role in the high-profile The Audience to star in Fortune’s Fool at the Old Vic. Expect cutting satire, an excess of champagne and plenty of turmoil. Throw in a Game Of Thrones star in the form of Iain Glen and you have all the ingredients for a perfect – in this case, laughter-filled – trip to the theatre.

On the fifth day of Christmas my true (retro TV watching) love gave to me: comedy greats on stage…

It may be 30 years since their final BBC show was filmed, but Morecambe and Wise’s cheeky humour can be found in the West End this Christmas in Eric And Little Ern, an affectionate homage to the much-loved pair.

Also bringing sunshine to the masses are Matthew Macfadyen and Stephen Mangan, who will continue to keep audiences in stiches with their take on another TV favourite, Jeeves And Wooster, until March. Perfect Nonsense, which is adapted from PG Wodehouse’s classic literary series of stories, may not involve any seasonal reindeer, but a particularly farcical cow-related sketch will more than make amends for the lack of Christmas cheer…

On the sixth day of Christmas my true (singing nun) love gave to me: hills alive with the sound of music…

Christmas would not be Christmas without one afternoon spent catching snippets from The Sound Of Music while you juggle – not literally I hope – turkey giblets in the kitchen. Julie Madly Deeply is Sarah-Louise Young’s tribute to the film’s iconic star Julie Andrews. Alongside performances of songs from the famous Austrian-set romance and her other many magical musicals including Mary Poppins and My Fair Lady, she’ll also be filling audiences in on the life of the singing legend.

On the seventh day of Christmas my true (en-pointe) love gave to me: classic festive ballet…

For many a family, a yuletide trip to a performance of The Nutcracker is as traditional as staying in your pyjamas for a full 24 hours on Boxing Day is to mine. This year Covent Garden’s two most prestigious dance companies, the English National Ballet and the Royal Ballet, have versions on offer.

The Royal Opera House stage Peter Wright’s classic interpretation where the 19th century comes alive along with the sparkling ballet’s many imaginative treats, from the army of mice to the glittering sugarplum fairies. In the London Coliseum’s minimalist named Nutcracker, audiences will join Clara in Wayne Eagling’s stunning version as she takes a hot air balloon ride across the frost-dusted London skyline to the Land of Snow.

On the eighth day of Christmas my true (socialist) love gave to me: a night of revelations…

It may not be Christmas in Ibsen’s Ghosts, but this play will definitely give you more chills than a frosty, winter night. Transferring to the Trafalgar Studio 1 after a critically acclaimed run at the Almeida, stage favourite Lesley Manville will reprise her role as a woman living with the demons of her past. Richard Eyre has already earned an Evening Standard Best Director Award for the production, making the exquisitely designed drama a seasonal must-see.

On the ninth day of Christmas my true (modern classic) love gave to me: a whole company of lords-a-leaping…

Returning to Sadler’s Wells almost 20 years since it first premiered at the Islington dance theatre, Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake has now truly earned its place as modern day classic. Turning the genre favourite on its head, Bourne’s powerful and truly unique reinterpretation features an all-male ensemble. Try and beat that for provocative Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis…

If you’re more of a traditionalist, you can’t get more comforting than Sadler’s Wells’ annual festive treat, The Snowman, which has played at its West End home at the Peacock theatre for more than a decade. More Christmas enchantment than a Michael Bublé festive album. And that’s saying a lot.

On the tenth day of Christmas my true (film fan) love gave to me: murder

Woah, you weren’t expecting that on a jovial yuletide list were you? But, as you may have guessed by now, the West End is better known for its thrilling dramas than tinselled treats. That’s why we’ll not shy away from suggesting you get your Christmas kicks from some quality thrillers, while snaffling a mince pie and mulled wine in the interval of course.

For film lovers, you need look no further than two slick stage adaptations: Twelve Angry Men and Strangers On A Train. The first features an all-star cast and was described by us as: “packed full of gripping dialogue and witty exchanges”, while the other mixes film noir and clever theatrical staging to create a spectacle packed with “blackmail, murder and delusions”.

On the eleventh day of Christmas my true (scandalous) love gave to me: a brand new Andrew Lloyd Webber musical…

We have been truly spoilt for musicals in 2013. The Book Of Mormon, Once, Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, From Here To Eternity…the list goes on and on. But there is still time to squeeze one more much-anticipated arrival in, Lloyd Webber’s Stephen Ward. Inspired by one of the most tabloid-covered scandals in 20th century UK politics, the impresario has given the Profumo Affair a stylish musical makeover with leading man Alexander Hanson taking centre stage.

On the twelfth day of Christmas my true (puntastic) love gave to me: ridiculous gags and even sillier storylines…

While we may have demonstrated the breadth and class that the West End has to offer, we couldn’t finish a festive list with anything but pantomime, could we? It may not be to everyone’s refined tastes, but thousands of people flock back year after a year for a dose of the silliest entertainment known to man. Get your fix with the Lyric Hammersmith’s acclaimed annual offering – this year the Steven Webb-led Jack And The Beanstalk – or refuse to choose and instead experience as many as possible in 80 minutes with the return of CBBC’s Dan and Jeff’s brilliantly irreverent Potted Panto.

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