By Marianka Swain
A Christmas Carol
Now in its seventh year at the Old Vic, Jack Thorne’s adaptation of Charles Dickens’s fable is deeply humane, and Matthew Warchus’s handsome production features Victorian carolling and mince pies. Christopher Eccleston is this year’s Scrooge.
Old Vic, London SE1 (oldvictheatre.com), until Jan 6
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
Birmingham Rep is the doorway to Narnia this Christmas. Sally Cookson’s tender wartime adaptation of C S Lewis is thoroughly theatrical, with inventive use of suitcases, puppets and astonishing aerial stunts.
Birmingham Rep, Birmingham (birmingham-rep.co.uk), until Jan 28
The National’s bold new Roald Dahl adaptation – by Tony-nominated composer Dave Malloy and Olivier-winning playwright Lucy Kirkwood – promises to be a darkly entertaining cracker. Katherine Kingsley stars as the scheming Grand High Witch.
National Theatre, London SE1 (nationaltheatre.org.uk). until Jan 27
Thursford Christmas Spectacular
There’s no bigger seasonal celebration in the UK than Thursford’s old-school combination of circus, comedy, song and dance, delivered by a cast of 130. Steam engines and Wurlitzers bring added nostalgia.
Thursford, Norfolk (thursford.com), until Dec 23
The Box of Delights
The RSC brings John Masefield’s classic novel to the stage, the story of orphaned schoolboy Kay, who must guard a magical box from evil forces – and save Christmas.
Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon (rsc.org.uk), until Jan 7
Wishmas: A Fantastical Christmas Adventure
This immersive experience has been created by the talents behind Punchdrunk and Secret Cinema. Explore the enchanted realm where Christmas wishes are sent, and indulge in treats from Fortnum & Mason and Pip Organic.
Old Bauble Factory, Waterloo, London SE1 (wishmas.co.uk), until Jan 7
Stranger Things: The First Shadow
Netflix’s sci-fi sensation comes to the stage with a 1950s-set prequel. It promises similar escapades and jump-scares, and tantalising clues for the television show’s final season.
Phoenix Theatre, London WC2 (uk.strangerthingsonstage.com), until Aug 25
My Neighbour Totoro
First seen last year, the RSC’s smash hit turns Studio Ghibli’s beloved 1988 animation, about two sisters communing with rural spirits, into awe-inspiring theatre. It has the soul of a family Christmas show, and truly awe-inspiring puppets.
Barbican, London EC2 (barbican.org.uk), Tues-Mar 23
Peter Pan Goes Wrong
The jolly Christmas edition of Mischief Theatre’s slapstick comedy franchise sees the usual am-dram show-within-a-show descending into magnificent chaos – and, of course, Peter Pan is meant to fly …
Lyric Theatre, London W1 (mischiefcomedy.com), Thurs-Jan 14
A Christmas Carol – A Ghost Story
Mark Gatiss’s spooky dramatisation of Dickens is particularly attuned to the story’s otherworldly elements. Keith Allen plays the curmudgeonly Scrooge while Peter Forbes is his ghostly partner Marley.
Alexandra Palace, London N22 (christmascarolonstage.co.uk), Fri-Jan 7
You’ll be even more grateful for your Christmas food (glorious food) after watching that wide-eyed Dickensian orphan ask for more. James Brining’s production of Lionel Bart’s chipper musical stars Steve Furst as Fagin.
Leeds Playhouse, Leeds (leedsplayhouse.org.uk), Fri-Jan 27
The Snow Queen
Can Gerda rescue her best friend Kaj from the heartless Snow Queen? Alex Byrne’s snow-dusted production sees the talented cast also performing an original acoustic score. And there are cycling reindeer, too.
Tobacco Factory Theatres, Bristol (tobaccofactorytheatres.com), Dec 1-Jan 15
There are plenty of panto Pans this Christmas, but for J M Barrie without the gags, try this spell-binding journey into Neverland, adapted by Evan Placey and Vikki Stone.
Rose Theatre Kingston, London KT1 (rosetheatre.org), Dec 1-Jan 7
Emma Rice’s swoon-worthy musical adaptation of Nöel Coward’s doomed romance, directed by Sarah Frankcom, is perfect for a Christmas date night. Add a pre-theatre tea and illicit bun for maximum impact.
Royal Exchange, Manchester (royalexchange.co.uk), Dec 2-Jan 13
Richard Curtis (whose Love Actually remains a divisive Christmas movie) curates this variety show fundraiser for Comic Relief. Celebrity guests will join the cast in performing music, stories, poetry and comedy, against a backdrop of illustrations from well-known artists.
Southbank Centre, London SE1 (southbankcentre.co.uk), Dec 7-11
Hansel and Gretel
This year’s Globe offering is a fresh, family-friendly take on the Brothers Grimm by poet laureate Simon Armitage. Expect plenty of music and magic.
Shakespeare’s Globe, London SE1 (shakespearesglobe.com), Dec 8-Jan 7
This stage version of the 1954 movie musical promises to be an irresistible festive charmer. Ignore the bonkers plot and luxuriate in those delectable Irving Berlin songs. Paul Foster directs.
Crucible Theatre, Sheffield (sheffield theatres.co.uk), Dec 9-Jan 13
The Wizard of Oz
Follow the Yellow Brick Road to this classic musical, which combines songs from the film with additions by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. JLS’s Aston Merrygold and drag artist The Vivienne star.
Liverpool Empire, Liverpool (atgtickets.com), Dec 13-Jan 7
The Jungle Book
Chichester supplies energetic, family-friendly fun with its youth theatre show: Sonali Bhattacharyya’s dramatisation of Rudyard Kipling’s coming-of-age yarn, featuring original songs by Ruth Chan.
Chichester Festival Theatre, Chichester (cft.org.uk), Dec 16-31
Bluey’s Big Play
The beloved cartoon dog is brought into the third dimension in this lively stage production created using a combination of puppets and voices pre-recorded by the television show’s cast. Looks sure to be a school Christmas-holiday saviour for families with younger children.
Royal Festival Hall, London SE1 (southbankcentre.co.uk), Dec 20-Jan 7
By Marianka Swain
Clive Rowe, AKA Widow Twankey, is not just a genie-us pantomime dame, he’s also directing this year’s Hackney Empire effort – reliably one of the most warm-hearted and dynamic in the land.
Hackney Empire, London E8 (hackneyempire.co.uk), until Dec 31
Can’t decide which panto to go for? This brilliantly madcap mash-up gives you seven classics in just 80 minutes, from Jack and the Beanstalk to Dick Whittington.
Wilton’s Music Hall, London E1 (wiltons.org.uk), Nov 29-Dec 30
With David Suchet in the role, presumably this Captain Hook will have a ravishing moustache. An eclectic cast also features Faye Tozer from Steps and local favourite comedian Andy Ford.
Bristol Hippodrome, Bristol (atgtickets.com), Dec 2-31
Strictly Come Dancing’s sharp-tongued judge Craig Revel Horwood feels like natural casting as the Wicked Stepmother. He’s joined by magician Pete Firman and Britain’s Got Talent semi-finalist Alison Jiear.
New Wimbledon Theatre, London SW19 (atgtickets.com), Dec 8-Jan 7
Palladium panto regulars Julian Clary, Paul Zerdin, Nigel Havers and Gary Wilmot return for the annual West End spectacular. Jennifer Saunders is the year’s star turn as an ab-fab Captain Hook.
London Palladium, London W1 (lwtheatres.co.uk), Dec 9-Jan 14
By Ivan Hewett
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
One of our great “period instrument” orchestras is joined by wise, humane Japanese musician Masaaki Suzuki for Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, a joyous retelling of Christ’s nativity spread over two nights.
Queen Elizabeth Hall, London SE1 (oae.co.uk), Dec 2, 3
Scottish Chamber Orchestra
The SCO’s musical director Maxim Emelyanychev is a brilliant harpsichordist as well as superb conductor, and in this programme of Baroque and neo-Baroque delights he’ll shine in both roles.
St Andrews, Edinburgh, Glasgow (sco.org.uk), Dec 6, 7, 8
SJSS Christmas Festival
In the dog days of December there’s nothing better than Christmas music to lift the spirits, and this festival covers the whole range from Raymond Briggs’s The Snowman to Bach to Messiaen.
Saint John’s Smith Square London SW1 (sjss.org.uk), Dec 9-23
By Tristram Fane Saunders
Armando Iannucci’s up-to-the-minute “ongoing history play” promises a wild romp through the Johnson, Truss and Sunak years. Patrick Marber directs.
Soho Theatre, London W1 (sohotheatre.com), Dec 1-Jan 14
A cult hit in America, this wacky cabaret takes inspiration from the madness of Japanese television game shows. Comedians endure electric shocks, and dodge a giant chicken.
Underbelly Boulevard (underbellyboulevard.com), London W1, until Jan 26
Garry Starr Performs Everything
One man in an absurd Shakespearean ruff attempts to single-handedly save theatre by spoofing every theatrical genre imaginable in just 60 mad minutes.
Southwark Playhouse Borough, London SE1 (southwarkplayhouse.co.uk), Nov 29-Dec 23
By Mark Monahan
Recently buffed up, Peter Wright’s 1990 take on Tchaikovsky’s ballet is the most eye-poppingly spectacular around – the only staging that makes you feel as though you’re actually under the Christmas tree.
Birmingham Hippodrome (brb.org.uk), until Dec 9
Now in its 26th year – particularly striking for so perishable a hero – Howard Blake’s adaptation of the Raymond Briggs picture book returns, and is likely to prove every bit as magical as ever.
Peacock Theatre, London WC2 (sadlerswells.com), until Dec 30
Matthew Bourne’s Edward Scissorhands
Bourne’s marvellous 2005 adaptation of the much-loved Tim Burton film returns. Feeling at once modern and old-fashioned, playful but also melancholic, it looks and sounds fantastic and is also almost absurdly moving.
Sadler’s Wells, London EC1 (sadlerswells.com), Dec 5-Jan 20
If Birmingham Royal Ballet’s version of this perennial favourite has the edge for Spielbergian visual oomph, the Royal Ballet’s (also produced by Peter Wright) is the leader for 19th-century snow-dusted night-before-Christmas magic.
Royal Opera House, London WC2, Dec 6-Jan 13; relayed live to cinemas nationwide Dec 12-17. Tickets and details: roh.org.uk
Choreographed by the company’s artistic director, Christopher Hampson – a fellow with a very keen sense of how to entertain – Scottish Ballet’s lively version of the Prokofiev favourite is back, but completely and tantalisingly redesigned.
Theatre Royal, Glasgow, Dec 9-31, then touring Scotland and the North until February. All tickets and details: scottishballet.co.uk
By Robbie Collin
Ridley Scott directs an epic Bonaparte biopic, starring a glowering Joaquin Phoenix opposite Vanessa Kirby as Empress Joséphine, the woman for whom Napoleon sought to conquer everything.
A new animated musical from Disney, cut from familiar cloth: it’s set in a magical kingdom overseen by an oppressive ruler. Ariana DeBose plays 17-year-old Asha, who prays to the stars in a moment of need.
Finnish master Aki Kaurismäki brings us melancholic rapture in one of his most romantic offerings: a lonely supermarket employee meets an alcoholic blue-collar worker, and they fumble their way forward to intimacy.
Cinemas, Dec 1
The Red Shoes
Powell and Pressburger’s delirious masterpiece, newly restored: unbox their 1948 tale of ballet and madness, with Moira Shearer’s whirling ballerina in the thrall of Anton Walbrook’s cruel impresario, and marvel anew.
Cinemas, Dec 1
How Willy Wonka learned his trade, as dreamed up by the Paddington 2 team of director Paul King and writer Simon Farnaby. Timothée Chalamet plays him as a budding chocolatier, with songs and snazzy outfits galore.
Cinemas, Dec 8
By Nicholas Kenyon
One of the great operatic tragedies in Welsh National Opera’s classic, highly praised production by David McVicar comes to Southampton for two pre-Christmas performances, conducted by Alexander Joel. Prepare to weep!
Mayflower Theatre, Southampton (mayflower.org.uk), Friday and Saturday
Damiano Michieletto’s staging of these two turbulent one-act operas won an Olivier Award: both tell tales of disappointed love and passion. Superstar French tenor Roberto Alagna makes a rare return to the Royal Opera in Mascagni’s Cavalleria, while the Italian Fabio Sartori takes on the tragic jester Pagliacci to Leoncavallo’s heart-rending music. Daniel Oren conducts.
Royal Opera House, London WC2 (roh.org.uk), Nov 30-Dec 15
Wolf Witch Giant Fairy
Opera for all the family: this winning retelling of the folk tale Little Red Riding Hood won plaudits when it first appeared in 2021, and now returns to the Linbury Theatre in a scintillating mix of magic and drama curated with the company Little Bulb, experts in child-friendly productions. An ideal hour-long introduction for children to the magic of opera
Linbury Theatre, Royal Opera House, London WC2 (roh.org.uk), Dec 11-Jan 6
By Neil McCormick
Celebrating 65 years of pop stardom, Sir Cliff takes his Blue Sapphire tour to the silver screen. Filmed during a six-night run at London’s Hammersmith Apollo, the veteran hitmaker’s concert will be broadcast in 400 cinemas across the country.
Cinemas nationwide (cliffrichardcinemas.com), Nov 25-26
Promoting their 13th, typically rambunctious album, Theatre of the Absurd Presents C’est La Vie, the enduringly popular ska troupe bring their trademark vaudevillian pop mischief to UK arenas.
P&J Live, Aberdeen, Scotland and touring (madness.co.uk), Nov 30-Dec 16
In recent years, Liam has somewhat stolen his brother Noel’s thunder, but the ex-Oasis band leader continues to plough his own worthy songwriting furrow, and always has access to the most singalong back catalogue in Britpop history.
OVO Wembley Arena, London HA9 (noelgallagher.com), Dec 14 and touring until Dec 21
By Alastair Sooke
Christmas at Waddesdon
Visit the Mad Hatter’s tea party and venture into the White Witch of Narnia’s castle, in a series of “immersive” installations inside the grade I-listed country house, the façade of which will also be transformed by a related digital projection.
Waddesdon Manor, Bucks (waddesdon.org.uk), Weds-Jan 1
Impressionists on Paper: Degas to Toulouse-Lautrec
Around 80 drawings, pastels, watercolours, temperas and gouaches by a ton of heavyweight Impressionist and Post-Impressionist names, demonstrating how the 19th-century Parisian avant-garde elevated the status of hitherto-humble works on paper.
Royal Academy of Arts, London W1 (royalacademy.org.uk), Nov 25-March 10
The Printmaker’s Art: Rembrandt to Rego
Remarkable works by famous artists, from Albrecht Durer to Tracey Emin, who have excelled in printmaking across 500 years – assembled like a profusion of presents beautifully arranged under the tree.
Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh (nationalgalleries.org), Dec 2-Feb 25