Christmas crackers: The shows that will make the festive season all the merrier
Want to see Priscilla Presley making her panto debut, Matthew Bourne’s radical reworking of Sleeping Beauty or a heart-melting Snowman?
There's a male Tinkerbell and a grown-up, knife-wielding Peter Pan in Sally Cookson's offbeat take on the fairytale. Never fear, though, there is also lots of flying – four different kinds apparently, using everything from bungee jumps, old-fashioned ropes and counterweights.
To 19 January, Bristol Old Vic (0117 987 7877; bristololdvic.org.uk)
The Lyric Hammersmith has put on the naughtiest, most unorthodox panto in town for a few years now, thanks to promising playwrights Joel Horwood and Morgan Lloyd Malcolm. This year's scene-stealer is Mel Giedroyc (last seen presiding over The Great British Bake-Off) as a Lady Gaga-esque Ms Hardup. Sean Holmes directs, with some magical flourishes.
To 5 January, Lyric Hammersmith, London (020 8741 6850; lyric.co.uk)
My Fair Lady
Dominic West makes his musical theatre debut as 'Enry 'Iggins, teaming up once again with Daniel Evans who directed him as Iago at the same theatre last year. Carly Bawden stars as Eliza Doolittle. Should be loverly.
To 26 January, Sheffield Crucible (0114 249 6000; www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk)
The Arabian Nights
Indhu Rubasingham's tenure at the Tricycle got off to a flying start with Red Velvet earlier this autumn. Now, the theatre stages its first ever Christmas show – a radical, punkish reworking of The 1,001 Nights with a modern Baghdad setting and music from the Iranian indie band Take It Easy Hospital.
To 12 January, Tricycle Theatre, London (020 7328 1000; tricycle.co.uk)
Hansel and Gretel
It shouldn't, but somehow setting the playwright Lucy Kirkwood and director Katie Mitchell loose on its Christmas show works for the National. The deliciously dark pair collaborated on a witty and sinister Beauty and the Beast last year; now, it's the turn of the Brothers Grimm. Kate Duchêne is sure to be a terrifying witch. Suitable for 7-10-year-olds – and all big kids with good taste.
To 26 January in rep, National Theatre, London (020 7452 3000; nationaltheatre.org.uk)
A Christmas Carol
The New Vic's Alice in Wonderland in 2011 was a visually stunning delight. Now Theresa Heskins and her team tackle Dickens with their distinctive blend of physical theatre and magical tricks. In a nice twist, last year's Alice, Hannah Edwards, returns as the Ghost of Christmas Past.
To 19 January, New Vic Theatre, Newcastle-under-Lyme (01782 717962; newvictheatre.org.uk)
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
There's something irresistible about the line-up for this pantomime. Priscilla Presley makes her panto debut as the Wicked Queen, Warwick Davies (Life's Too Short) co-stars as "Prof" and wildman comedian Jarred Christmas plays Hermann the Henchman. Oh yes they do. Etc.
To 13 January, New Wimbledon Theatre, London (0844 871 7646; atgtickets.com)
Bryony Kimmings: The DIY Nativity
The glitter-fuelled performance artist has made her first cabaret for kids, a riotous, interactive cross between a Generation Game Christmas special and a wonky school play. Sam Halmarack and Stuart Bowden (last seen with 2012 Edinburgh Comedy Award winner Doctor Brown in Dr Brown and His Singing Tiger) co-star. The daytime show is suitable for ages four and up with a special evening show for grown-ups only on 19th December.
To 30 December, Junction, Cambridge (01223 511 511; junction.co.uk)
The Master and Margarita
A sell-out hit earlier this year, Complicite's striking show is the thinking adult's alternative pantomime. Based on Bulgakov's Soviet satire that weaves two stories – the Devil landing in 1930s Moscow and the Crucifixion – into a magical whole, Simon McBurney's adaptation is epic and frequently stunning.
14 December to 19 January, Barbican, London (0845 120 7511; barbican.org.uk)
Artistic director Erica Whyman bids farewell to Northern Stage with a lovely adaptation of Mary Norton's classic. Andrew Stephenson's joyful designs evoke the world of the little people who live under the floorboards with the help of puppets. The cast is uniformly strong.
To 29 December, Northern Stage, Newcastle upon Tyne (0191 230 5151; www.northernstage.co.uk)
Thank heaven for Matthew Bourne and his off-beat seasonal offerings. Having given us a Nutcracker set in an orphanage and male swans in Swan Lake, his latest zingy assault on Tchaikovsky is a Twilight-flavoured gothic romance that features a baby puppet, time travel and leather-clad fairies called Tantrum and Feral. Lez Brotherston's designs are a wonder to behold, too. A must.
To 26 January, Sadler's Wells, London (0844 412 4300; sadlerswells.com); then touring
A Nutcracker, yes, but with a hint of the dark flavour of the Weimar Republic. Think red tutus and 1920s decadence. Ashley Page's choreography looks as fresh now as it did when it premiered in 2003.
To 29 December, Theatre Royal Glasgow (0844 871 7673; scottishballet.co.uk); then touring
For those who have had their fill of Nutcrackers, the Royal Ballet's triple bill is a classy festive affair. Fokine's colourful ballet about a mystical bird plays alongside Jerome Robbins' In the Night, danced to Chopin's Nocturnes and the rousing third act of Raymonda, danced by Carlos Acosta, Marianela Nunez and Edward Watson, among other glittering stars.
22 December to 11 January in rep, Royal Opera House, London (020 7304 4000; www.roh.org.uk)
Traditional snow and candy canes Christmas fare from the English National Ballet. But this year with the additional gift of Tamara Rojo, the company's new star artistic director. Book for 15, 20, 22 or 29 December to catch her dancing Clara.
To 5 January, Coliseum, London (020 7845 9300; www.ballet.org.uk)
The Flying Dutchman
Always majestic, Bryn Terfel takes the lead in this one-off concert performance of Wagner's great opera. Alain Altinoglu conducts the Zurich Opera orchestra.
15 December, Royal Festival Hall, London (0845 875 0073; southbankcentre.co.uk)
The Snowman/Peter and the Wolf
The Orchestra of Welsh National Opera provide live musical accompaniment to The Snowman film in the first half of this double bill. After the interval, they will be joined by the actress Tamsin Greig who will narrate their performance of Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf live on stage.
Harry Christophers' ensemble perform Handel's Messiah at the Barbican. For Oxford, they have put together a refreshing programme centred around the Flemish composers Josquin, Mouton and Lassus with more traditional fare from Howells, Byrd and Vaughan Williams.
The Little Match Girl Passion
The award-winning vocal ensemble I Fagiolini perform David Lang's delicate, haunting The Little Match Girl Passion, based on Hans Christian Andersen's tale and inspired by Bach. Matthew Robins' shadow puppetry accompanies the singing while evocative Danish and German carols round out an original yuletide programme.
14 December, Shoreditch Church, London; 15 December, Howard Assembly Room, Leeds; 21 December, Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry (www.ifagiolini.com)
Christmas just isn't Christmas without hearing Mimi's consumptive cough. John Copley's production has been running at Covent Garden since 1974 and is now a festive favourite. The big attraction for 2012 is Rolando Villazon singing Rodolfo. Mark Elder conducts.
17 December to 18 Jan in rep, Royal Opera House, London (020 7304 4000; www.roh.org.uk)
Sheeps Festive Bash
A mouthwatering mixed bill in one of London's most atmospheric venues. David O'Doherty, Tim Key, Jeremy Lion and Mark Watson are the heavyweight headliners alongside newcomers Oyster Eyes and Jamie Demetriou. The brilliant trio Sheeps host, while the Horne Section Players, fresh from Never Mind the Buzzcocks, will provide festive musical accompaniment.
17 December, Union Chapel, London (theinvisibledot.com)
The last chance to see Romance and Adventure, a typically beguiling show from the stand-up that mixes the political and the personal, the angry and the hilarious, with topics ranging from Tory cuts and Ed Miliband to the woes of turning 30. Lovely.
13 December, Phoenix, Exeter; 14 December, Penpont, Brecon; 15 December, Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff; 19-21 December, Battersea Arts Centre, London (josielong.com)
Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People
Now as much of a festive fixture as the Nutcracker, Robin Ince's humanist take on the traditional carol service has grown so popular it has a Coldplay-esque run of dates. The line-ups, featuring mainly comedians but also scientists and musicians, are brilliant as always but Stewart Lee fans might like to pencil in 16 December, while 18 and 19 December look particularly strong with Chris Addison, Richard Herring, Josie Long and Isy Suttie among the guests.
15 to 23 December, Bloomsbury Theatre, London (www.thebloomsbury.com)
2012 has been a much-deserved breakthrough year for the charming, hapless stand-up. This is another chance to see his well-crafted Edinburgh Fringe show The Further Adventures of… with its lo-fi rants about cereal and cash points, before he becomes a television megastar in 2013. Fellow observational comedian Seann Walsh shares the bill.
16 December, Milton Keynes Stables (01908 280 800; stables.org)
Tony Law's Christmas
Billed as a Christmas show for "well mannered freaks", this mixed-bill night is sure to be unconventional. Much-loved surrealist Tony Law, 2012 nominee for the Edinburgh Comedy Award, headlines with support from rockstar stand-up Nick Helm and sketches from The Behemoth.
21 December, Bush Hall, London (www.showandtelluk.com)
The Pub Landlord continues to tour the land, hectoring his audiences on everything from Scottish devolution to vajazzles. Don't even think about disagreeing with him – no one shoots down a heckler like Murray.
13 December, Park & Dare Theatre, Treorcy; 14 December, Aberdare Coliseum; 15 December, St David's Hall, Cardiff (thepublandlord.com)
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