No turkeys allowed! 25 of the best shows to book for Christmas 2021

Looking for a jolly good trip to the theatre this winter? Here’s our pick’n’mix selection of musicals, pantos and festive spectaculars, featuring circus tricks, high kicks and puppet rodents

Circus 1903

An adorable elephant puppet named Peanuts was the big hit of this circus spectacular when it rolled into the Southbank Centre in 2019. Now it’s back, with ringmaster David Williamson introducing some old favourites alongside new international acts including contortionists, acrobats and knife-throwers. Southbank Centre, London, 16 December-2 January

The Jungle Book

A swinging new version of Rudyard Kipling’s adventure, adapted, directed and choreographed by Tom Jackson Greaves with poetry and lyrics by Sanah Ahsan. The Watermill’s musical caper adds an extra bit of fun by offering 5pm pyjama performances to ease the post-show bedtime routine. Watermill, Newbury, 18 November-31 December

Pinocchio: The Greatest Wonder of the Age

This new musical version of Carlo Collodi’s classic tale gives the wooden boy more than a talking cricket for company. Paul Boyd’s story is set in a circus and features the conjuror Mr Fox, acrobat Lady Cat and opera sensation the Red Lobster. Like several theatres this Christmas, there are special socially distanced performances available if you prefer. Lyric, Belfast, 26 November-31 December

The nut-loving mischief-maker is back ... Caroline Garland in Squirrel, the Egg, Bath, 2019.
The nut-loving mischief-maker is back ... Caroline Garland in Squirrel, the Egg, Bath, 2019. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/the Guardian


Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, the Egg’s nut-loving mischief-maker is back. Marc Parrett’s scurrying squirrel puppet is the star of Tim Bell and Kate Cross’s five-star show, which creates a wintertime wonderland with a chic Bauhaus-inspired design, jazzy accompaniment and a giddy sense of fun. The Egg, Bath, 27 November-24 December

A Christmas Carol

Charles Dickens’ fable can seem like an old chestnut and this winter it’s being staged far and wide as usual. But this new musical version with audience interaction should ring the changes. From Noisemaker, the company behind Oor Wullie and The Snow Queen, it’s directed by Andrew Panton and features 11 actor-musicians. Dundee Rep, 27 November-31 December

A Chorus Line

With more hopes and dreams than Santa could ever fulfil, this high-kicking sensation of a backstage drama gets a welcome new production by musicals maestro Nikolai Foster. The always electrifying Adam Cooper stars as the demanding director Zach. Curve, Leicester, 3-31 December


The National Theatre’s Christmas spectacular offers the “true story of the bad fairy”, reimagining Sleeping Beauty from the perspective of the sprite who makes her slumber. Rosalie Craig takes the lead role and there’s a first-rate creative team including choreographer Jade Hackett, composer Jim Fortune, writer Tanya Ronder and director Rufus Norris. Olivier theatre, London, 4 December-22 January

Robin Hood

Christmas is a fine time for this swashbuckling saga of goodwill and merriment, which gets remixed as a “legend of the forgotten forest” by Bristol’s Wardrobe Ensemble in a show for over-sevens. A modern-day hero, JJ, gets caught up in the Sherwood shenanigans. Bristol Old Vic, 25 November-8 January

The Book of Dust – La Belle Sauvage

Delayed by almost 18 months because of the pandemic, Philip Pullman’s prequel to the His Dark Materials trilogy finally hits the stage, adapted by Bryony Lavery, directed by Nicholas Hytner and designed by Bob Crowley. Book a spare seat for your dæmon and treat yourself to a madeleine in the interval. It is Christmas after all. Bridge theatre, London, 30 November-26 February

It’s a mouse! ... Llygoden yr Eira.
It’s a mouse! ... Llygoden yr Eira. Photograph: -

Llygoden yr Eira

Eek! It’s the welcome return of Snow Mouse, this time staged in the Welsh language for a 10-venue tour by Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru and Theatr Iolo. A cosy bit of wintry fun for the under-fives. Tour runs 18 November-18 December

There May Be a Castle

There’s been a party mood at the Little Angel all year, as Islington’s puppet theatre is celebrating its 60th birthday. Its festive shindig is based on the book by Piers Torday about a pink knight, a family of mice and a shapeshifting dinosaur. Visit before 27 November to explore a birthday puppetry exhibition in the workshop. Little Angel, London, until 23 January

They can smell your socks ... rehearsal shot of Jack and the Beanstalk at the Stephen Joseph theatre, 2021.
They can smell your socks ... rehearsal shot of Jack and the Beanstalk at the Stephen Joseph theatre, 2021. Photograph: Tony Bartholomew

Jack and the Beanstalk

“Fee-fi-fo-fum … I smell the socks of a Scarborian!” Or so it goes at Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph theatre, where a giant is rumoured to have gobbled up the Easter Bunny and now plans to lock up Father Christmas. An off-kilter escapade from the gang behind last year’s The Snow Queen, which was a witty whirlwind of a show. Stephen Joseph theatre, Scarborough, 3-31 December

Mrs Delgado

A new Christmas tradition is afoot in Oxford: world premieres of Mike Bartlett plays at the Old Fire Station. After the success of Snowflake in 2018 comes Mrs Delgado, a story of neighbours and “raised blinds and lowered boundaries” during the Covid-19 lockdown. Live-streamed on 11 and 14 December. Old Fire Station, Oxford, 6-21 December

Walk the City of London’s streets ... digital audio show Ghost Walk, playable on audience’s smartphones.
Walk the City of London’s streets ... digital audio show Ghost Walk, playable on audience’s smartphones. Photograph: PR

Ghost Walk

Not ready to return to theatre? Or just fancy a winter stroll with some added drama? Poltergeist Theatre’s site-specific, digital audio show is playable on smartphones and invites you to turn ghost-detector on a trip around the City of London. Featuring Juliet Stevenson, Nina Wadia and Paterson Joseph, it is then available for download until spring. Broadgate, City of London, 10-11 December

Donald and Benoit

It’s the season to tell stories – and listen to them, too. Sound Stage’s new audio drama, adapted by Jeanine Byrne from John Byrne’s original story, is the tale of a naughty kitten who livens up the life of a bored boy by the seaside. Available online, 17-19 December

Beauty and the Beast

Panto aficionados will know that for one subgenre, screaming guitars and drum kits are as essential as frocks, sweets and slapstick. That’s rock’n’roll panto – and Christian Patterson’s take on Beauty and the Beast returns this year with a 10-strong cast, puppets and plenty of bangers. Theatr Clwyd, Mold, 19 November-15 January

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Narnia visits you this Christmas thanks to the UK and Ireland tour of this CS Lewis adaptation with its spellbinding design by Tom Paris. EastEnders’ Samantha Womack now plays the White Witch in the show which was first staged at Leeds Playhouse in 2017 and transferred to the Bridge theatre in London in 2019. Touring until 7 May

The Not So Ugly Sisters

Did the Ugly Sisters get a bum deal? Maybe Cinderella isn’t so squeaky clean after all? In a co-production with Leeds Playhouse and Red Ladder, children’s theatre company Wrongsemble imagine Cinders and Prince Smarming’s wedding day, with the stepsisters – who have become hairdressers – rudely snipped off the guest list. Written and directed by Elvi Piper, with music by Bay Bryan and Claire-Marie Seddon. Waterside Arts Centre, Sale, 24 November-1 January

She Loves Me

Love is in the air in the parfumerie at the heart of this romantic comedy, where two bickering employees find themselves falling for their pen pal. The twist is no great secret – this is the show that inspired You’ve Got Mail – but the songs by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick are a treat. Crucible, Sheffield, 11 December-15 January

A fed-up stage hand ... Christmas Dinner at the Lyceum, Edinburgh.
A fed-up stage hand ... Christmas Dinner at the Lyceum, Edinburgh. Photograph: Laurence Winram

Christmas Dinner

This promises to be a fun festive show with all the trimmings. The sparky Catherine Wheels Theatre Company has teamed up with the Lyceum for a play by Robert Alan Evans in which a fed-up stage hand resigns herself to a lonely turkey sandwich on the big day but the sprites of her theatre rally together to lift her spirits. Royal Lyceum theatre, Edinburgh, 6 December-2 January

Dick Turpin Rides Again

“The legend returns!” screams the poster – and you’d be forgiven for thinking that’s not Mr Turpin but legendary panto dame Berwick Kaler, who bowed out in 2019 after starring in his 40th pantomime for York Theatre Royal. Now he’s back, at the city’s Grand Opera House, alongside familiar accomplices including Martin Barrass and David Leonard. Watch out for Kaler’s traditional low-flying Wagon Wheels. Grand Opera House, York, 11 December-9 January

The Wiz

Ease on down the road with the “super soul musical” based on The Wizard of Oz and best known for the 1978 film version starring Diana Ross as Dorothy, Lena Horne as Glinda and Richard Pryor as the Wiz. Choreographed by rising star Leah Hill, Matthew Xia’s production should raise the roof of this pint-sized theatre. Hope Mill, Manchester, 24 November-16 January

A sweet treat ... Matthew Bourne’s Nutcracker!
A sweet treat ... Matthew Bourne’s Nutcracker! Photograph: Tristram Kenton/the Guardian

Matthew Bourne’s Nutcracker!

Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures company present the festive favourite that’s as cheekily delicious as opening your chocolate advent calendar early. Funny, fantastical and with a scrumptious design by Anthony Ward, it’s a sugar-rush of a show. Touring until 23 April

Five Little Christmas Monkeys

Counting is central to Christmas, whether it’s how many more sleeps till the big day, how many presents you get or how many sprouts you have to endure. The perfect time then for a festive spin on this riotously fun numbers show created by Andrea Sadler and David Duffy, the duo behind a puppet version of Dogs Don’t Do Ballet. For children aged six and under. Park theatre, London, 14-22 December

Santa Must Die!

Expect a distinct shortage of pa-rum-pum-pum-pum in this tale of zero-hours Christmas contracts that puts the gig into gig economy. A punky night out with upfront politics about workers’ rights and corporate greed, it’s written by Rosie MacPherson and foregrounds the bitter stories of those working through winter with Scrooge-like superiors. Alphabetti theatre, Newcastle, 16-31 December


Chris Wiegand

The GuardianTramp

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