Theatre: No more turkeys for Christmas

Innovative family treats in Nolan-free surroundings. What more could you want for Christmas?

First the good news. Having filled theatregoers' hearts with joy in several seasons of The Wind In The Willows, this year's National Theatre Christmas treat is Peter Pan. Usually the province of a perky drag performer - everyone from Maggie Smith to Wendy Craig has donned the pixie boots and flying harness - the role has gone to Daniel Evans.

"But he's a boy!" you gasp. True, but then Mark Rylance played the role when the RSC removed the encrustations of lazy panto productions and restored the innocence, wonder and darkness to JM Barrie's 1904 play in the 1980s. Long-term co-conspirators Trevor Nunn and John Caird will direct, and dreamy casting continues with Jenny Agutter as Mrs Darling and the mouthwatering prospect of Ian McKellen buckling his swashes as theatre's most famous one-armed bandit, Captain Hook.

The bad news? Tickets are vanishing like clocks down a crocodile. It's still only in rehearsal, but if you wait for the reviews to come out in mid-December, you won't get in unless you are prepared to queue for seats before 10am on the day. You have been warned.

A quick glance at London's other Yuletide offerings yields a surprising lack of traditional fare. The Palladium relinquished its hold on the market when it began housing long-running musicals. There are some people who wish to but haven't yet seen Oliver!, but I wouldn't recommend it. Yes, the choreography is by Matthew Bourne, but it is far from his best work. Try his Cinderella instead.

Interestingly, Bourne has continued to work on the show since its opening last month. By all accounts it is dramatically richer and stronger than at its impressive, if flawed, opening. You'd be surprised how many estimable directors watch and go: working on a show until press night and then disappearing forever. Long-runners have a nasty habit of turning into sloppy, pale imitations of that which everyone raved about.

Of the new stuff, my hunch would be to head for the Almeida which has a cracking cast lined up for John Byrne's swaggering adaptation of Gogol's boisterous bureaucratic farce, The Government Inspector. But for those with children in tow, it's More Grimm Tales at the Young Vic, or the Lyric, Hammersmith where Neil Bartlett follows up last year's magical A Christmas Carol with Treasure Island. And not a Gladiator, soap star or Nolan sister in sight.

`Peter Pan', National Theatre (0171-928 2252); `Cinderella', Piccadilly Theatre (0171-369 1734); ` The Government Inspector', Almeida (0171-359 4404); `More Grimm Tales', Young Vic (0171-928 6363); `Treasure Island', Lyric Hammersmith (0181- 741 2311)

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