Not another nutcracker

There's more to Christmas than pantos and that ballet. Alice Jones picks some great alternatives

The Cat in the Hat

It's a children's show, but perhaps not as we know it. Queen of the avant-garde Katie Mitchell meets Dr Seuss. Whether the director will bring her Brechtian impulses to bear on the tale remains to be seen but the show, a mere 35 minutes long, is billed as suitable for three to six-year-olds, so probably not.

To 18 Jan, National Theatre, London SE1(020-7452 3000; www.national

Off Kilter Dance, Edinburgh Festival Theatre

Not a Nutcracker in sight in this Hogmanay-inspired feast. Instead, there's Mark Morris's take on Beethoven's Scottish Songs, South Indian dances, a new ballet based on Archie Gemmill's glorious goal at the 1978 World Cup and a finale choreographed to a soundtrack of the best in Hibernian pop, from Franz Ferdinand to Calvin Harris.

29 Dec to 2 Jan, Edinburgh Festival Theatre (0131-529 6000;

The Wasteland

Fiona Shaw performs T S Eliot's masterpiece in the gorgeously distressed surroundings of Wilton's Music Hall. Deborah Warner directs. There's even a performance on New Year's Eve, which beats singing "Auld Lang Syne" in a pub. All together now: "Datta. Dayadvham. Damyata."

30 Dec to 10 Jan, Wilton's Music Hall, London E1 (020-7702 2789;

The Stefan Golaszewski Plays

A double bill of monologues from a supremely talented young playwright. The first is a teenage love story about a girl he met in the pub. In the second, fast-forwarding to 2054, he's a widower, looking back on a marriage blighted by tragedy. You'll leave the theatre winded and uplifted.

To 9 Jan, Bush Theatre, London W12 (020-8743 5050)

Ballets Russes

A sumptuous visual feast as the 100th anniversary celebration of Diaghilev's revolutionary dance troupe is beamed live to cinemas across the country from the Paris Opera. The programme includes Petrouchka and Nijinsky's L'après-midi d'un faune, performed on vividly beautiful sets originally designed by Picasso and Leon Bakst.

Tuesday, 7.30pm

Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People

Nothing says yuletide like a heady dose of humanism. Comedian Robin Ince's take on the Royal Institution Christmas lectures is back with its mixture of philosophy, stand-up and a little music. A five-night run at the Bloomsbury Theatre sold out but there are still tickets left for Hammersmith Apollo tomorrow featuring Richard Herring, The Thick of It's Chris Addison, Shappi Khorsandi, singer-songwriter Robyn Hitchcock and the god of atheism himself, Richard Dawkins.

Sunday (08448 444 748; www.

Hansel and Gretel: A Wonder Tale

Kneehigh is one of the most oddly inventive theatre companies working today so it's not surprising that its Christmas show is the very antithesis of a sugary Cinderella. Its macabre new version of the classic Grimm fairy tale involves an unsavoury drag queen witch and songs that sound like Tom Waits on a bad day.

To 23 Jan, Bristol Old Vic (0117-987 7877;

A Frisky and Mannish Christmas

The "twisted pop" cabaret duo were a runaway, sell-out success at the Edinburgh Fringe; now they're bringing their brilliant musical parodies to the West End, with a festive flavour. Other acts on the unconventional bill include Shooting Stars's low-key regular Angelos Epithemiou, Kalki Hula Girl and doo-wop trio the Puppini Sisters. Des O'Connor compères.

Monday, Lyric Theatre, London W1 (0844 412 4661)

Thea Gilmore

The Independent's rock critic Andy Gill declared Thea Gilmore's Strange Communion, with songs based on everything from T S Eliot's "Journey of the Magi" to pagan rituals and Yoko Ono, the best of this year's seasonal albums. This is the last chance to catch the folk singer's Wintertide tour which features songs from the album and acoustic covers of more familiar festive numbers.

Tonight, Ashcroft Theatre, Fareham (01329 223100); Monday, Telford's Warehouse, Chester (01244 390090)

Into the Hoods

Stephen Sondheim remixed – into a street dance spectacular. Fast, fierce and funny, Zoo Nation's urban fairy tale combines a pumping hip-hop soundtrack with some of the slickest dancing seen on stage in the past few years. Audience participation is positively encouraged.

To 10 Jan, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London SE1 (0844 875 0073)


The space-rock band will play their seminal 1997 album Ladies and Gentleman We Are Floating in Space, complete with orchestra and choir, from start to finish, in a sublime spectacle. Don't miss the after-show on the concourse – a DJ set from Maximo Park's Paul Smith.

Tonight, Sage, Gateshead (0191-443 4661;

La Clique

Strictly for adults, this is a circus with a risqué, rowdy difference. The hilariously entertaining show includes comedy magicians, "kamikaze divas", burlesque acts, hula girls and drag queens – all inside London's most thrilling venue.

To 17 Jan, Roundhouse, London N1 (0844 482 8008)

Blithe Spirit

Noel Coward's silliest play is the perfect pantomime for sophisticated, cocktail-swilling adults. Annette Badland stars as the inept clairvoyant Madame Arcati while Sarah Frankcom, fresh from the roaring success of Punk Rock, directs.

To 23 Jan, Royal Exchange, Manchester

Earth: Art of a Changing World

Tracey Emin's bird-covered tapestry, Keith Tyson's grandiloquent Nature Paintings and Antony Gormley's terrified terracotta army all feature in the Royal Academy's thoughtful, lively exhibition about climate change and the future of our planet. Copenhagen digested for culture vultures.

To 31 Jan, Royal Academy, London (020-7300 8027;

La Bohème

No fairy-tale happy ending but Covent Garden's take on the Parisian love story is always a lavish treat. Andris Nelsons takes the helm.

To 2 Jan, Royal Opera House, London WC2 (020-7304 4000;

Ray Davies

The engaging former Kinks frontman performs songs new and old with the Crouch End Festival Chorus.

Tonight, Hammersmith Apollo, London (08448 44 47 48;

Happy Mondays

Who better to celebrate the last few hours of 2009 than with the original 24-hour party people and founding fathers of Madchester?

31 Dec, 02 Academy, Liverpool (

Christmas Day Charles Dickens Walk

Meet by the Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square for this Dickens-themed walk through the nooks and crannies of Pip and Pickwick's London. And home in time for turkey, too.

25 Dec, 2pm (

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