Panto? It's so behind you! Try these instead ...

Preview: Alternative Christmas shows: Brian Logan is your guide to festive music and mirth that breaks the mould (and not a Widow Twankey in sight)

What is it to be this year? A panto, or candlelit Handel? If the prospect of either fills you with Scrooge-like ennui – is it just me, or has the bin-man only just taken away last year's turkey scraps? – then fear not.

For every tinsel-clad David Hasselhoff (Captain Hook in Bristol), and for every Syd Little and Cannon & Ball arising wraith-like from their primetime grave (in Wrexham and Lincoln respectively), there are festive shows to be found that prioritise imagination over audience participation, Christmas spirit over Cadbury's sponsorship and the x-factor over "X-Factor finalists Same Difference" (at Broxbourne Civic Hall. Book now!). So close your eyes, rub your lamp and – hey presto – enjoy our thinking person's guide to 2011's live Christmas entertainment.

Copyright Christmas & Duckie Christmas Market

Barbican Centre, London (0845 120 7511), 10 to 31 Dec

Having previously offered festive gaiety with performance art-meets-Moulin Rouge floorshow C'est Duckie, the so-called "Purveyors of Progressive Working-Class Entertainment" return with a timely critique of rampant consumerism, Copyright Christmas. It's a promenade show in which the audience explore a fictional superstore, where "saucy shopaholics, supermarket sweepers and sweatshop Santas" await. In the Barbican foyer throughout the run, Duckie curate a real-life "indie gift market" where the in-crowd can buy their retro gifts and hand-produced must-haves. In one visit to EC1, then, conspicuous consumption can be both satirised and indulged.

Night of 200 Billion Stars

Manchester Apollo (08444 777 677), 6 & 7 Dec, then touring

For those of an infidel disposition, bookish standup Robin Ince has been a godsend with his annual atheist cabaret Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People. This year, Nine Lessons is back for a London run, while a companion show, Night of 200 Billion Stars, takes to the road, with a science-worshipping, God-dissing bill of wags and boffins including physics dreamboat Brian Cox, scourge of quack medicine Simon Singh, and comics Tim Minchin and Helen Arney.

The Heart of Robin Hood

Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon (0844 800 1110), to 7 Jan

It's not hard to see why the RSC selected Robin Hood as the myth to delight its audiences this Christmas. A hero who steals from the rich to give to the poor? I don't just want him on stage, I want this man as Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Hansel and Gretel

The Junction, Cambridge (01223 511511), 7 Dec to 3 Jan

Who needs Oliviers? The theatre collective NIE won the 2011 Assitej Award for Artistic Excellence at the Assitej World Congress, a festival celebrating children's theatre, in Copenhagen. OK, so that's further beyond our radar than the work of, say, "rap superstar Vanilla Ice" (Peter Pan, Chatham). But it better guarantees a good Christmas show. This is the company's first festive event, but their terrific Tales from the Middle of Town, which squatted a derelict shop in Peterborough earlier this year, proved they can make mischievous and involving children's theatre. This one promises "serious child's play" featuring "child abandonment, murder, cannibalism and the medieval fear of stepmothers", which is hard to resist.

The Morpeth Carol

Bristol Old Vic (0117 987 7877), 8 to 17 Dec

"A cracked fable in the mould of Tim Burton and Terry Gilliam," runs the blurb. The Morpeth Carol is the first festive show from the live art/theatre duo Sleepdogs, a Bristolian outfit hitherto best known for their experimental solo shows and short films. Now the city's venerable Old Vic has commissioned a 21st-century fairytale, in which a clapped-out Santa crash lands in a northern town, where he is befriended by a nine-year-old boy. The twist? The story is read to you in complete darkness by the cast of five actors, who are accompanied by "an immensely detailed web of sound effects, played live like a musical instrument".

A Christmas Carol

Film City, Glasgow (0845 330 3501), to 31 Dec

You could be sure that when the National Theatre of Scotland finally staged a Christmas show, it would do it a bit differently. So it proves. Director Graham McLaren's is no conventional revival of Dickens's spectral potboiler. It relocates the action to Scrooge's office, a Victorian counting house. Then there's the "eastern European aesthetic", which sees the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future represented by puppets. Then there's McLaren's desire to get across what he calls Dickens' "socio-political call for direct action". It plays in the former Govan Town Hall throughout December.

Southbank Winter Festival

Southbank Centre (0844 875 0073), to 11 Jan

Multiculturalism is the theme of the Southbank Centre's festive effort; David Cameron won't be pleased. Highlights include a Danish-Indian musical called The Bollywood Trip (12 to 18 Dec; a satire on the cult of novelty, called The Colour of Nonsense (19 to 30 Dec), from the brilliant film-theatre tricksters Forkbeard Fantasy; and A John Waters Christmas, a tart exercise in raconteurship by the cult B-movie director and so-called "Pope of Trash". The festival is headlined by Murmurs (24 Dec to 2 Jan, see Heads Up, page 71), the new circus-theatre romance from Charlie Chaplin's daughter Victoria, in which her daughter Aurelia plays "a woman fleeing from reality in a life filled with cardboard boxes". Come Boxing Day, we may all know how she feels.

Rudolf

Arches, Glasgow (0141 565 1000), 2 Dec to 3 Jan

Last year, Andy Manley put together a show called White for two- to four-year-olds. It bagged a clutch of awards, including Best Show for Young People at the UK Theatre Awards, and is now running in New York, where Sarah Jessica Parker numbers herself among its fans. (It's also at the Southbank Centre, London this Christmas.) Now, the Arches in Glasgow revives Manley's 2008 show Rudolf, itself an award nominee, which tells the story of "the reindeer with dreams" who doesn't know why he doesn't fit in. Such was White's popularity, parents elbowed aside their own toddlers for a ticket.

No Pressure to be Festive

Leicester Square Theatre, London (08448 733 433), 18 Dec

No Pressure to be Funny is Nick Revell and Alistair Barrie's monthly sort-of comedy night, launched in a south London pub earlier this year as the antidote to trite topical panel shows. Now it's in the West End, and staging a Christmas special with a crack guest-star cast of comedians and opinion-formers. Miles Jupp and Ken Livingstone? Check. Miranda Sawyer and Radio 4 musical comic Mitch Benn? Them too. It may not be festive, or even funny, but a night out with both Rich Hall and George Monbiot on the bill has got to be better than a night in with Mock the Week.

Barbershopera Apocalypse Noel!

Drum Theatre, Plymouth (01752 230440), 6 to 23 Dec

Expect only a light dusting of fake snow on this offering from the wise-cracking, close-harmony-singing quartet: Apocalypse Noel! is just a festive edition of the non-seasonal touring show Apocalypse No! It starts Christmassy enough, with angels delivering a message to God. But then things get terminal, as God responds to his angels' bad news from earth by commissioning the Four Horsemen to put humanity out of its misery. Jolly jokes and swoonsome tunes ensue, in a show which delighted critics on its London run last January, and has been on the road since.

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment
Relocation, relocation: Zawe Ashton travels the pathway to Northampton
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Three was launched a little over five years ago with the slogan: “Three, is a magic number, yes it is.”

BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital move

TV
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Armie Hammer in the new film of ‘The Lone Ranger’

TV
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis in Syria: Influential tribal leaders hold secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over possibility of mobilising against militants

    Tribal gathering

    Influential clans in Syria have held secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over the possibility of mobilising against Isis. But they are determined not to be pitted against each other
    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians

    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

    A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians
    Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously

    Illnesses, car crashes and suicides

    Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously
    Srebrenica 20 years after the genocide: Why the survivors need closure

    Bosnia's genocide, 20 years on

    No-one is admitting where the bodies are buried - literally and metaphorically
    How Comic-Con can make or break a movie: From Batman vs Superman to Star Wars: Episode VII

    Power of the geek Gods

    Each year at Comic-Con in San Diego, Hollywood bosses nervously present blockbusters to the hallowed crowd. It can make or break a movie
    What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?

    Perfect match

    What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?
    10 best trays

    Get carried away with 10 best trays

    Serve with ceremony on a tray chic carrier
    Wimbledon 2015: Team Murray firing on all cylinders for SW19 title assault

    Team Murray firing on all cylinders for title assault

    Coaches Amélie Mauresmo and Jonas Bjorkman aiming to make Scot Wimbledon champion again
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!
    Ashes 2015: Angus Fraser's top 10 moments from previous series'

    Angus Fraser's top 10 Ashes moments

    He played in five series against Australia and covered more as a newspaper correspondent. From Waugh to Warne and Hick to Headley, here are his highlights
    Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

    EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

    An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

    The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
    How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

    Heavy weather

    What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
    World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

    World Bodypainting Festival 2015

    Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
    alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

    Don't call us nerds

    Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high