The weeks leading up to Christmas are the perfect time to take a theatre-shaped pause in the middle of all that gift-buying and food-eating. As well as the traditional pantomine, London’s auditoriums usually give over a large percentage of their space to cutting-edge Christmas family shows that the whole family can warm to.
Here are our top picks, for Winter 2015/16.
For children aged 4-8
Raymond Briggs’ furry night-time visitor, who climbs in through the window of a small boy and proves to be a cuddly yet destructive visitor, is brought to life by the puppetry of Pins and Needles productions. The company’s co-founder, Emma Earle, directed the magnificent Adventures in Wonderland (our favourite show of the summer). We are very excited about this production.
Elf the Musical
At the Dominion Theatre from 24 Oct-2 Jan
For children over 4
This London premiere is based on the cracking 2003 film starring Will Ferrell. It stars household names Ben Forster, Kimberley Walsh, Joe McGann and Jessica Martin; for those of you unfamiliar with the story, it follows Buddy, who grows up in the North Pole thinking he’s an Elf, but is given special permission by Father Christmas to travel to New York. If you’re looking for a chucklesome take on some favourite Christmas traditions, this sounds like the show for you.
Raymond Briggs’ Father Christmas
At the Lyric, Hammersmith from 20 Nov-24 Dec
For children under 6
Now in its fourth year, Father Christmas was previously staged at the Lyric to rave reviews. Briggs’ Father Christmas is a curmudgeonly sort, who’s grumpy when he wakes up from a dream of beaches and sunshine, to find it’s the busiest day of his working year. But he soon cheers up after sampling the traditional Christmas Eve offering of brandy.
The Lyric’s performance is aimed at children under six, so it could be a good introduction to theatre for tiny tots.
The Railway Children
At Kings Cross Theatre until 3 Jan
For children over 5
Featuring a real-life steam train and with £1 from each ticket going to the Street Children charity, this show promises to be a real Winter warmer. It’s based on E Nesbitt’s classic novel about a family in crisis. The tale of a father who goes missing, and of intrepid children who make the best of a move away from home, is sure to bring a tear to the eye at Christmas-time. I’ve reviewed the Railway Children here.
At the Royal Festival Hall from 16 Dec-3 Jan
For children over 5
Clowns creepy? Not when they’re fooling around with snow on the Southbank, they’re not. This show returns for its fifth consecutive year, and is touted as a combination of theatrical clowning and breath-taking visual effects (including a full-on snowstorm, if previous years are anything to go by). We’re yet to see it, but I’ve heard marvellous things. The show is performed by a world-renowned company of clowns led by Slava Polunin, the Artistic Director of the St Petersburg Circus.
Percy the Park Keeper’s Winter Park
At Discover Children’s Story Centre from 27 Nov-23 Dec
For children aged 3-6
Last year we saw One Snowy Night, the first Percy the Park Keeper adaptation at Discover. It was a cosy treat just before Christmas, with clever puppetry and a detailed, homely set. Winter Park promises to be similar, but with the added bonus of a Christmas craft session at the end.
The Snow Child
At the Unicorn Theatre from 18 Nov-3 Jan
For children aged 4-7
You have to love a Russian folktale at Christmas time. This show is by award-winning company Dancing Brick, and is about a couple who long for a child. They sculpt a daughter out of snow, and then the adventure begins. I’m intrigued by this show; everything I’ve seen at the London Bridge-based children’s theatre has been of a stunningly high quality.
At the Leicester Square Theatre from 7 Nov-3 Jan
For children over 3
This will be the third year running that our family goes to see Scamp Theatre’s Stick Man (my review is here). With a delightfully ear-wormy score and bouncy, jolly action, it’s the best adaptation of a Julia Donaldson book I’ve seen. Stick Man, illustrated by Axel Scheffler, follows a stick father who has to find his way home to his “stick lady love, and his children one-two-three”. It has also been adapted into an animated film, to be aired on BBC1 this Christmas, featuring the voices of Martin Freeman (Stick Man), Hugh Bonneville (Santa), Jennifer Saunders (The Narrator), Russell Tovey, Rob Brydon and Sally Hawkins.
Dr Seuss’s The Lorax
At The Old Vic from 3 Dec-16 Jan
For children over 6
“I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees!” Adapted by David Greig and directed by Max Webster, this environmental fable brings a timely message to Christmas audiences. Dr Seuss’s books lend themselves to zany slapstick – there were plenty of grins in our family during another adaptation we saw, of the Cat in the Hat – so I’ll be interested to hear whether this show also lives up to the genius behind the books.
Tune in later for a rundown of some Panto performances in London.
Will you be seeing any shows this Christmas?
Disclosure: we were offered tickets to some, but not all of these shows. All views are my own.