A round-up of festive shows

Jenny Gilbert suggests sackloads of festive fun for you to choose from
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The Independent Culture


A Christmas Carol

Patrick Stewart (Star Wars, X-Men, RSC) revives his Olivier-Award winning one-man staging of Charles Dickens's story. Using only a few props but bags of virtuosity and dramatic nuance, Stewart plays every character - Tiny Tim, Bob Cratchit, Old Marley, Fezziwig - as well as the world's most miserable miser, Ebenezer Scrooge.

Albery Theatre, London WC2 (0870 950 0920) 6 to 31 December. £10-£40

Kiki & Herb: Jesus Wept

New York "cabaret terrorists" Justin Bond and Kenny Mellman introduce their edgy musical double-act to London's South Bank after playing to standing-room-only for a decade in the US. Kiki is a washed-up chanteuse who regales audiences with tales of her disastrous life, peppered with alcoholic variants on Christmas classics and inappropriate pop songs, while the faithful Herb accompanies on piano.

Queen Elizabeth Hall, London SE1 (08703 800400) 13 & 14 Dec. £17.50-£20

Tina C: I'm Dreaming of a White Trash Xmas

Country music diva Tina C, aka Christopher Green, delivers "a sincere, non-denominational religious experience all wrapped up with jaw-dropping country songs and a whole mess of American lovin'." British comedian Green has toured Tina C shows throughout the UK but this is his/her first time in London. Green also does a 20-minute performance piece about the Degas/Sickert/Toulouse-Lautrec exhibition at Tate Britain today and 11 Dec.

Barbican Pit, London EC2 (0845 120 7550) 15 to 30 Dec. £12

Season's Greetings

"Listen Clive, if you're going to say something of great importance to me, do you think you could possibly take that beard off?" This classic farce by Alan Ayckbourn begins by dissecting an average family celebration chez Neville and Belinda Bunker but soon it's outright war between two eccentric uncles, producing not just comic mayhem but also a dark streak that renders this one of Ayckbourn's richest comedies. Directed by Nikolai Foster.

Liverpool Playhouse (0151 709 4776) 8 December to 21 January. £5-£18


Herge's Adventures of Tintin

Producing one of the year's most inventive shows has become a seasonal tradition for the Young Vic. Now its award-winning team, led by Rufus Norris, tackles the first major UK stage adaptation of Herge's cartoon. Join the cub reporter, his dog Snowy and the curmudgeonly Captain Haddock as they battle to rescue their friend Chang lost in a plane crash in the Himalayas. Will they avoid the Abominable Snowman prowling the peaks? A test not just for Tintin, but for the Young Vic's intrepid design team.

Barbican Theatre, London EC2 (0845 120 7500) 29 Nov to 21 Jan. £10-£22.50

Alice in Wonderland

This classic children's story becomes a musical in this new stage adaptation, featuring the White Rabbit, the Queen of Hearts, the Mad Hatter, Dormouse and the rest of the surreal cast. For adults, Terry Johnson's fabulous "comic tragedy" Dead Funny runs in the venue's Courtyard Theatre to 21 January.

West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds (0113 213 7700) to 4 February. £12-£26


Last year's sell-out success set an Old Vic box office record and helped re-establish the credibility of pantomime as an art form. This year Ian McKellen reprises his Widow Twankey along with Roger Allam as Abbanazar and Frances Barber as the witless Dim Sum. Sean Mathias directs what is probably the classiest panto in town - certainly the most expensive.

Old Vic, London SE1 (0870 060 6628) Weds to 22 Jan. £10-£40

Great Expectations

Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod's new adaptation for the RSC lays bare a tissue of lies and guilt in Dickens's least sentimental story, which takes its hero Pip on a journey from the marshes of the Medway to London society and transforms him from a young blacksmith into a young gent. It's the Cheek by Jowl duo's first adaptation of a 19th-century novel since their award-scooping Vanity Fair in 1985. For older children only.

Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon (0870 609 1110) to 4 Feb. £10-£40

The Ratcatcher of Hemelin

Families in search of something more thought-provoking than panto should head to Lavender Hill in Battersea. Outside, BAC may look like a product of Victorian values, but inside it's presenting some of the classiest radical theatre around (and with radically cheap tickets to match). This year, the company Cartoon de Salvo presents its version of a dark tale that should delight and frighten rats and brats alike. Recommended for age eight up.

Battersea Arts Centre, London SW11 (020 7223 2223) to 14 Jan. £5-£8


Ethnic diversity and a riot of laughter and sweet-throwing come as standard in Stratford East's famous pantos. Productions may not boast big names or technical sophistication, but the wholesome, singalong style is a winner. The cautionary tale of a small boy with a big nose is this year's theme, but the crucial ingredient is the audience, and they don't come livelier than this.

Theatre Royal Stratford East, E15 (0800 183 1188) to 21 Jan. £4-£20

Tom's Midnight Garden

Be among the first to sample the splendours of London's spanking new £13m children's theatre complex, located near Tate Modern. David Wood's adaptation of Phillippa Pearce's classic story isn't overtly Christmassy, but it's beautifully apt. Tom is sent to stay with a dull uncle and aunt while his brother recovers from measles, but soon discovers the fun that lies behind the front door when the clock strikes 13. A feast of time travel and skating on a frozen Thames. Age eight and up.

Unicorn Theatre, SE1 (08700 534 534) to 29 Jan. £8.50-£12.50

Snow White

Star-studded panto of the familiar variety but low on smut and high on dialogue, singing and dancing. Toyah Willcox goes for broke as the Wicked Queen with Rocky Horror's Richard O'Brien as her hideous henchman. Suzanne Shaw, the blonde one from Hear'Say, is Snow White.

Milton Keynes Theatre (0870 060 6652) Friday to 23 Dec. £12-£21.


One for the tinies: Islington's puppet theatre revives its gentle adaptation of Quentin Blake's tale about an Italian family of strolling players. One day Angelo meets a sad little girl, rescues her from her mean uncle and teaches her to be a tightrope walker. The team of seven superbly skilled puppeteers includes Lyndie Wright, "godmother of British puppetry".

Little Angel Theatre, N1 (020 7226 1787) to 29 Jan. Children £6, adults £8.50. Thursday and Friday, pay what you can

Chinese State Circus

Flying daggers, Chinese pole-jumping, the woman of 100 faces, human candelbra, gymnasts catapulting large terracotta jars from head to head... ingenuity knows no limit in this acrobatic extravaganza which also includes the first appearance outside China of the Shaolin Wushu Warriors, plus a taster of Peking Opera.

Queen Elizabeth Hall, SE1 (0870 160 2518) 23 Dec to 6 Jan. Price £5-£25

Aladdin and Enchanted Lamp

The unique selling point of Bristol Old Vic's offering this year is its script by Philip Pullman, author of His Dark Materials and national scourge of pappy and patronising children's entertainment. Director is Aletta Collins, who was associate director on 2003's hit Pullman adaptation at the National. Expect an intelligent and vivid retelling, true to the original Tales of the Arabian Nights.

Bristol Old Vic (01179 87 78 77) to 28 Jan. £5-£20



Following the sell-out success of his Wind in the Willows, director-choreographer Will Tuckett tackles the Italian morality tale of the puppet that can sing, dance and turn somersaults but who longs to be a real live boy. Composer Martin Ward sets the words of writer Phil Porter to a score steeped in gypsy music. A darkish tale for age eight and above.

Linbury Studio Theatre, ROH, London WC2 (020 7304 4000) 16 Dec to 7 Jan; Norwich Theatre Royal (01603 630 000) 18 to 21 Jan; Quays Theatre, Lowry Centre, Salford (0870 787 5780) 24 to 28 Jan; Coronation Hall, Ulverston (01229 587 140) 9 to 11 Feb. £6-£21

Edward Scissorhands

Following the unstoppable global success of his adaptations of Swan Lake and Nutcracker, Matthew Bourne adapts Tim Burton's gothic-meets-suburbia movie for the stage. (See review, page 9.)

Sadler's Wells, London EC1 (0870 737 7737) to 5 Feb. £10-£48

White Christmas

Serious contemporary dance normally goes to ground in December, but this inspired season transforms the usual "black box" theatre into a gleaming all-white space, challenging choreographers to come up with something sparkly to fill it. Each evening presents a different, 60-minute bill of adaptations and premieres, topped off with a joyous treatment of the famous Bing Crosby song.

The Place, London WC1 (020 7387 0031) to 17 Dec. £5-£15


Scottish Ballet's Ashley Page has turned the company's fortunes around since he took over as director three years ago. His second full-length ballet for Scottish brings together the same creative team that produced a fascinatingly angst-ridden Nutcracker two years ago, but raises the dance stakes another notch. Expect a production that homes in on the sinister glitter of Prokofiev's score, performed in full by the Scottish Ballet Orchestra.

Glasgow Theatre Royal (0141 332900) 13 to 31 Dec; Edinburgh Festival Theatre (0131 529 6000) 4 to 14 Jan; His Majesty's, Aberdeen (01224 641122) 17 to 21 Jan. £7-£34

The Snowman

Now a seasonal fixture, the stage version of Raymond Briggs' wordless picture-book returns for another bout of "Walking In The Air" - the boy-soprano number that graces the show's most magical sequence. The target audience here is really young kids. Anyone over seven (barring doting grandparents) may struggle to appreciate the antics of dancing penguins, prancing reindeer, Jack Frost and co, though Ruari Murchison's sets are witty.

Peacock Theatre, London WC2 (0870 737 7737) Weds to 8 Jan. £12.50-£30

Will Tuckett

Director-choreographer of 'Pinocchio' at the Royal Opera House's Linbury Studio

"It's a story that seemed to be just begging to be done with music and movement and great design. It has a boy made of wood, an old man, a fox and a cat, a colourful villain, a puppet show, a whole land of toys and even a classic transformation scene. And it's one of those familiar-ish stories where very few people have read the book, which is much, much darker than Disney would have you think. At a recent school preview we had 12- and 13-year-olds quaking. We've kept the story's strong moral message and I rather like that. The children who skive off school gradually all turn into donkeys. In the original this is because Stromboli wants to work them in his mines. But pit culture doesn't mean so much to modern kids so I've made Stromboli's puppet theatre a front for a glue factory. He intends to melt them down, bring them literally to a sticky end. The thing about Pinocchio's desire to become a flesh-and-blood boy is that he has to acquire moral sense. It's only when he learns to feel sorrow and guilt for his behaviour that he becomes real. I'm not going to reveal how we do the physical transformation, but it involves a terrific storm of blue glitter..."

Declan Donnellan

Director of Charles Dickens's 'Great Expectations' for the RSC

"The great thing about the book is that it deals with an issue that's just as shaming today. Snobbery afflicts us all, whether it's about looking down on someone because of their education, or their tastes, or the political views they hold. And Dickens was honest enough to show that he knew how it felt to grow up grander than your parents, and the sense of guilt and ambivalence that brings. The book also hinges on the need to grow up and move away and find yourself. There's a touch of Miss Havisham's inability to let go in all of us. Of course, you can't fit the whole book into two hours of theatre. But I work quite a lot in Russia, where the stock-in-trade is adaptations of huge Russian novels, and they think of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky as big theatrical writers. One of the most important things to happen in Stanislavsky's studio was a Dickens adaptation, so we're hardly pioneers. But it's very satisfying to be working with Dickens's language, and helping actors learn how to roll out those long, rich sentences on the big RSC stage."

Justin Bond

Kiki of Kiki & Herb, the New York double act, whose 'Jesus Wept' is at the Queen Elizabeth Hall

"Kiki was born 15 years ago when I was doing a lot of glamour drag and a friend in San Francisco asked me if I would perform at his birthday party. On the night I'd smoked a little hash and listened to The Cure and gotten in this evil mood. I showed up in this dress and out came this really bad character who started kicking people's drinks over and sang all these pop numbers in a terrible way. People seemed to love it. Soon everybody wanted Kiki causing havoc at their party, and my partner Kenny developed Herb, Kiki's feeble-minded pianist sidekick, and we dreamed up a back history for the pair. They were born in the 1930s and they've had a go-nowhere career for a very long time, with poor Herb constantly under Kiki's vicious thumb. We're supposed to be bad, but you have to be pretty good before you do bad convincingly."