Plays in London
London's numerous theatres are incredibly busy during Christmas, as tourists and families flock to see a wide variety of plays in the city. In addition to long-running West End favourites like Wicked, Aladdin and The Lion King, there will be a number of new family-friendly plays for audiences to enjoy this Christmas...
A Christmas Carol
Where: The Old Vic, London
When: Until 20th January
If there is one story which is synonymous with Christmas, it is A Christmas Carol, the 1843 Charles Dickens classic about the miser Ebeneezer Scrooge and the ghosts who visit him on Christmas Eve in order to make him change his ways. A Christmas Carol has been adapted for stage and screen numerous times, with Scrooge played by iconic actors such as Alister Sim, Michael Caine and Jim Broadbent. In this version from The Old Vic, Scrooge will be played by Rhys Ifans, who has starred in movies such as Notting Hill and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Ifans is under a lot of pressure to provide a memorable take on Scrooge, as this eagerly-anticipated production has been created by two of the biggest names in British Theatre - director Matthew Warchus (Matilda: The Musical) and writer Jack Thorne (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child). This adaptation of A Christmas Carol is going to be darker than most versions of the story (The Old Vic have recommended it for audiences aged 11 and above) but it seems like it will capture the spirit of Dickens' tale of redemption whilst doing enough to stand out in its own right.
Where: The National Theatre, London
When: 1st December - 10th April
Following last year's acclaimed adaptation of Peter Pan, The National Theatre will try and gain another hit this Christmas by providing a new version of Pinnochio, with Joe Idris-Roberts as the titular wooden puppet. In order to make this production even more appealing for a family audience, they have gained the rights to use the iconic songs from the 1940 Disney adaptation, including 'I've Got No Strings', 'Give a Little Whistle', and, of course, the legendary 'When You Wish Upon A Star'. However, director John Tiffany and writer Dennis Kelly have been given the freedom to make a number of changes to the source material in order to please modern audiences. Most notably, Jiminy Cricket, the insect who serves as a voice of reason for Pinnochio, is now being played by a woman, updating a character often seen as synonymous with the conventions and values of 1940s America..
The National Theatre adaptation of Pinnochio is probably going to be a bit too scary for very young children, as some of the most horrifying scenes from the source material (such as the trip to Pleasure Island) remain intact in this version. However, it looks like it will retain the magical appeal of the Disney film whilst providing its own unique and theatrical touches. Thus, it is probably going to be a must-watch for families going to the theatre over the next few months.
The Box of Delights
Where: Wilton's Music Hall, London
When: 1st December - 6th January
Based in the East End Suburbs, Wilton's Music Hall is one of London's oldest and most fascinating theatres, having hosted shows and performances since the 19th century. This Christmas, Wilton's Music Hall is putting on an adaptation of John Masefield's classic 1935 children's novel The Box of Delights, which is a perfect fit for an old-fashioned venue with a remarkable history. The Box of Delights tells the story of a boy who meets a showman with incredible magic powers and a box which can allow people to travel through time. Although it was a sequel to Masefield's earlier book The Midnight Folk, it has become far more iconic than the original story and in 1984, it was adapted into an acclaimed television series which starred Devin Stanfield and Patrick Troughton. This version of The Box of Delights is being brought to the stage by acclaimed children's author Piers Torday and director Justin Audibert, with Matthew Kelly and Josefina Gabrielle leading the cast. If you have had enough of Central London, it is definitely worth heading to Wilton's in order to see this intriguing take on Mansfield's enthralling story.
Where: The Vaudeville Theatre, London
When: 15th December - 31st December
The 19th century author Oscar Wilde is renowned for his witty comedic plays, such as The Importance of Being Earnest and Lady Windermere's Fan, but he also created a number of brilliant and beautiful fairy tales, including The Happy Prince and The Selfish Giant. Some of these fairy tales are getting their moment in the spotlight in the show Wilde Creatures, which is being performed as part of an Oscar Wilde Season at the Vaudeville Theatre.
Wilde Creatures is an hour-long play from Tall Stories, a company which specialises in creating short plays based on children's novels such as The Gruffalo. Like their previous works, Wilde Creatures will blend music, comedy and storytelling. In the play, characters from three Oscar Wilde fairy tales (The Happy Prince, The Nightingale and the Rose and The Birthday of the Infanta) will compete to gain a statue in their honour, whilst a group of musicians (the titular Wilde Creatures) provide the narration.. Overall, Wilde Creatures looks like an excellent way of introducing young children to both the works of Oscar Wilde and the world of theatre...
Plays Outside London
Although there are plenty of great plays in London, it is incredibly insulting to reduce all British theatre to that single city. All of Britain's major villages and cities have a major theatre or two, and many of these are providing family-friendly plays and musicals just as impressive as those available in the English capital. These six plays are particularly worth seeing this Christmas, regardless of whether or not you live nearby...
Beauty and the Beast
Where: The Festival Theatre, Chichester
When: 16th December - 31st December
The most successful fairy tale film this year has been Disney's live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast, which made over $1 billion and renewed interest in the 18th-century fairy tale which inspired it. Chichester Festival Youth Theatre are capitalising on this with a new and unique version of Beauty and the Beast far closer to Gabrielle-Suzanne De Villeneuve's original story than the 1991 Disney classic adapted from it. This production seems darker and more mysterious than the Disney film, as Beauty and her spoiled brothers and sisters come across the fearsome Beast, but there will be a lot for kids to enjoy as well, with Richard Taylor even creating a variety of new songs for this production. Chichester is notable for providing high-quality regional theatre, and this take on Beauty and the Beast looks like it will be a must-see for any families visiting the area this Christmas.
The Arabian Nights
Where: The Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
When: Until 6th January
The winter months are especially cold in Edinburgh, but a bright and colourful play can really lift the spirits and warm the heart. This Christmas, The Royal Lyceum Theatre will be taking audiences to the heart of the Middle East with their play The Arabian Nights. In contrast to the Orientalist kitsch of Aladdin pantomimes, The Arabian Nights will provide a far more respectful take on the classic Arabian stories first collected in the 9th century, with an exciting and action-packed new narrative provided by Suhayla El-Bushra. In this play, the storyteller Scheherezade will seek to protect her world from a tyrannical sultan by telling stories ranging from familiar classics such as Aladdin and Ali Baba to more obscure and unusual tales such as The Genie, the Girl and the Chess Playing Monkey Boy. Director Joe Douglas has promised a play full of "colour, heat, magic, adventure and song", and it definitely looks like this production will provide entertainment which is colourful, unique and still perfect for Christmas...
The Jungle Book
Where: Royal & Derngate Theatre, Northampton
When: 28th November - 31st December
In recent years, film-makers have taken a renewed interest in Rudyard Kipling's short story collection The Jungle Book. Disney's live-action remake of their iconic 1967 adaptation was a major critical and commercial hit in 2016, and Andy Serkis' darker, more adult version of Kipling's classic is due in cinemas next year. In order to capitalise on the popularity of The Jungle Book, Olivier Award-Winning writer Jessica Swale and director Max Webster have created a new version of this iconic text for the stage. It will use the medium of theatre to put a new spin on the familiar story of Mowgli, the human boy raised by wolves in the jungle, and his battle with the sinister tiger Shere Khan. It seems like this version is closer to Kipling's universe than Disney's, but it will provide plenty of music and comedy for family audiences, with no shortage of creative special effects used to bring the animals of the jungle to life. This production will premiere in Northampton, before starting a tour of the UK in January. With its memorable characters and fascinating setting, The Jungle Book seems like it will become pretty popular with family audiences over the next few months.
The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe
Where: West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds
When: 29th November - 27th January
Sally Cookson has gained a reputation as one of Britain's most innovative theatre directors, thanks to her acclaimed versions of Jane Eyre and Peter Pan. This Christmas, she is heading to Leeds to direct an adaptation of the C.S. Lewis classic The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, about four siblings who discover a mysterious world hidden behind a wardrobe. In order to satisfy the high levels of interest in Cookson's new production, The West Yorkshire Playhouse has been expanded to seat over 1000 theatregoers.
The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe is best known for its Christian overtones, but for her version, Sally Cookson is updating the story by focusing on the development of the four protagonists, the Pevensies. They are evacuees sent to live in the countryside during World War Two, and Cookson aims to draw parallels between their experiences and those of the refugees seeking shelter in Britain today. Her production looks like it will put a new spin on the 1950 novel whilst retaining the magic and mystery which has made it into a Christmas classic...
The Little Matchgirl and Other Happier Tales
Where: Bristol Old Vic, Bristol
When: 30th November - 14th January
After its successful run at the Globe Theatre last Christmas, The Little Matchgirl and Other Happier Tales is touring the UK, arriving in Bristol just in time for the Christmas holidays. In this single-act play from director Emma Rice and writer Joel Horwood, Hans Christian Andersen's bleak yet beautiful fairy tale The Little Matchgirl is used as a framing story, with the impoverished titular protagonist using her last remaining matches to conjure up visions of Ole Shuteye, who tries to keep her entertained by telling her the stories of Thumbelina, The Emperor's New Clothes and The Princess and the Pea. The Little Matchgirl and Other Happier Tales has been praised for its creative visuals and puppetry, and its success at balancing the tragedy of The Little Matchgirl with the more upbeat and comedic tone of the tales which accompany it. The Little Matchgirl and Other Happier Tales is highly recommended for any families seeking a more mature (yet still child-friendly) alternative to the traditional Christmas theatre...
Where: The New Vic, Newcastle-Under-Lyme
When: Until 27th January
The New Vic, based in the Staffordshire suburb of Newcastle-Under-Lyme, is famous for its "in-the-round" stage, which engages the audience by allowing them to see the action from all sides. Their Christmas play this year is a take on the Robert Louis Stevenson classic Treasure Island , with the 1883 novel about pirates and the search for buried treasure being turned into an exciting play full of adventure and swordfights. The overwhelmingly masculine source material is being updated for a more diverse audience, with several key characters reimagined as females. For example, protagonist Jim Hawkins is now called Jem and played by Nisa Cole. However, this adaptation will stay true to the heart of Treasure Island, as Jem's coming-of-age and her friendship with the mysterious Long John Silver will remain key elements of the story. Blending the traditional thrills of Stevenson's tale with a new modern and progressive approach, this take on Treasure Island looks like it will provide the bright and colourful escapism needed during the long and cold winter nights.