Watch out for snowball-firing robots! 25 of the best UK stage shows this Christmas

Ian McKellen in Mother Goose, Robin Hood as a rock’n’roll panto, a circus spin on The Little Prince and glitter galore … it’s our selection box of festive theatre

Christmas in the Sunshine

Unicorn, London, 17 November-31 December
Ola Ince, one of today’s most exciting directors, stages a new play by rising star Yasmin Joseph (author of J’Ouvert) in the Unicorn’s studio. For children aged three to six, it’s about a boy visiting his family in the Caribbean for the first time. Meanwhile, artistic director Justin Audibert puts on Pinocchio in the main theatre.

Midnight Mole

The Egg, Bath, 9-31 December
A festive Chekhov for the under-fours? That’s the sort of surprise you’d expect from the excellent Egg theatre. In this puppet adventure, Madame Ranevsky gets a fresh perspective on her cherry orchard, courtesy of some animal pals. From the team behind the popular Snow Mouse.

Once Upon a Snowstorm

Traverse, Edinburgh, 9-23 December
Illustrator Richard Johnson’s picture-book, about a boy separated from his father and welcomed by a bunch of animals, is adapted by Lyra for children aged five to eight. On 17 December, Johnson accompanies performances for a draw-your-own-bear event.

Loosey-goosey … John Bishop and Ian McKellen.
Loosey-goosey … John Bishop and Ian McKellen. Photograph: Scott Garfitt/Invision/AP

Mother Goose

UK and Ireland tour, 15 December-1 April
Almost 20 years after his legendary Widow Twankey at the Old Vic, Ian McKellen returns to panto land alongside John Bishop in a show written by Jonathan Harvey and directed by Cal McCrystal. Playing at nine venues, including a West End run over Christmas, it’s sure to hatch egg puns aplenty.

Crackers: A Festive Family Farce

Polka theatre, London, 19 November-15 January
Wimbledon’s wonderland of family theatre has a festive season including the return of Sarah Argent’s irresistible Grandad, Me and Teddy Too. Crackers by Charles Way follows the Christmas Day shenanigans of a family who run a pet shop and seem to have mislaid Napoleon the rat.

Belle and Sebastien

Bristol Old Vic, 2 December-8 January
Cécile Aubry’s 1960s story about a boy and his Pyrenean mountain dog is brought to the stage in a 50-minute studio production directed by Heidi Vaughan, starring Felix Hayes and Mogali Masuku, and co-produced with Travelling Light. Expect snowy peaks and wet noses in a tale of faithful friends.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Tron, Glasgow, 23 November-8 January
Panto supremo Johnny McKnight writes and directs the Tron’s annual shindig, postponed for two years running because of Covid. Dorothy Blawna-Gale and her pooch Tronto plan to send audiences over the rainbow.

Robin Hood

Theatr Clwyd, Mold, 19 November-14 January
Never mind the longbow: Clwyd’s rock’n’roll panto gives us a rebellious hero riding through the glen wielding his faithful guitar. Written by Christian Patterson, it brings good tidings with rock, soul and pop songs.

Live theatre’s Wintry Tales
Live theatre’s Wintry Tales Photograph: -

Wintry Tales

Live theatre, Newcastle upon Tyne, 4-23 December
Why not let the young audience have a say in their festive show? Local schoolchildren proposed the ideas behind this new hour of storytelling for the over-fours written by Rory Mullarkey. Eexpect elves, polar bears and snowball-firing robots.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Leeds Playhouse, 18 November-28 January
Leeds Playhouse’s traditional festive extravaganza is a guaranteed golden ticket. This year’s sweet treat, with a whopping 10-week run, is the Roald Dahl classic previously done in London and New York. There are new tunes and favourite songs from the movie, taking you into – all together now – “a world of pure imagination”. A mammoth 2023 tour follows its Leeds run.

Cinderella: The Midnight Princess

The Mac, Belfast, 30 November-8 January
This winter you can have a singalong with Cinders in musical stagings across the land, from Dundee to Manchester to Salisbury. Presented by Cahoots and the Mac, this ball in Belfast promises incredible illusions and a twist on the original fairytale.


National Theatre, London, 26 November–14 January
The National’s 2021 Christmas show – a new take on Sleeping Beauty – was cursed by Covid: three weeks of performances were lost due to illness and its official press night and NT Live broadcast were scrapped. Now it’s back with a new cast. Rufus Norris directs the fairytale, with music by Jim Fortune and a book by Tanya Ronder.

Doctor Dolittle’s Wild Adventure

Rehearsals for The Little Prince.
Freya Stokka, Tilly Lee Kronick and Joshua Frazer in rehearsals for The Little Prince. Photograph: Alex Brenner

Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff, 1-3 December
Welsh company Hijinx has an inclusive community theatre group, Odyssey, whose festive show is a musical menagerie bringing together the Ugly Duckling, Nellie the Elephant, Incy Wincy Spider and other colourful creatures.

The Little Prince

Taunton Brewhouse, 6-30 December
A circus spin on Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s enduring story, staged by Metta Theatre with a 24-strong youth ensemble supporting the cast. The book and lyrics are by P Burton-Morgan, with a score by Candida Caldicot. There’s a Ukrainian captioned performance on 28 December.

Robin Hood

Oldham Coliseum, 12 November-7 January
Oldham Coliseum enters the festive season reeling from the news that it will no longer receive National Portfolio funding from Arts Council England. Like so many theatres, they’ll rely on a faithful local audience for their panto, which is written by Fine Time Fontayne and Chris Lawson. Designed by Celia Perkins (who won an award for last year’s production).

A Christmas Carol

Shakespeare North Playhouse, Prescot, 25 November-7 January
Dickens’s tale of poverty and austerity brings a particular sting amid the cost of living crisis. Ellie Hurt directs a version by playwright Nick Lane and composer Simon Slater that aims to be “fast and furious” with added local references at this handsome new theatre.

Red Riding Hood

Everyman, Liverpool, 25 November-14 January
Suba Das, the new creative director for the Everyman and Playhouse theatres, stages its annual rock’n’roll panto, this year written by Peter Rowe. There’s a top technical team including choreographer Lucy Cullingford and designer Grace Smart sinking their teeth into the tale.

Sleeping Beauty

The Marlowe, Canterbury, 25 November-8 January
After her terrific performance in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s pantomime-esque Cinderella, Carrie Hope Fletcher turns villain in her first proper panto. She’s the wicked witch opposite Strictly champ Ore Oduba and Jennie Dale (the dastardly Captain Captain from CBeebies’ Swashbuckle).

Tales of the Brothers Grimm

Sherman theatre, Cardiff, 26 November-31 December
You could go and see Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty or Rapunzel this winter – or find all three (with a wolf and a snow queen to boot) in this fairytale mashup by Hannah McPake. It follows a suffragette’s daughter who is transported by a storm into a magical land.

Mother Goose

Hackney Empire, London, 19 November-31 December
Panto dame extraordinaire Clive Rowe will have the audience all a-flutter with this deliriously daft tale, staged to mark the 120th birthday not just of the venue but of the 1902 version of the pantomime that starred Dan Leno. Should leave you ding dong merrily on high.

Treasure Island

Lanternhouse, Cumbernauld, 2-24 December
This one’s a bit more yo ho ho than ho ho ho: Ross MacKay’s swashbuckling play opens with young Robbie reading Robert Louis Stevenson’s book and then being swept inside its world of adventure. Co-presented by Visible Fictions.

The Boston staging of Dolly Parton’s Smoky Mountain Christmas Carol.
Dolly Parton’s Smoky Mountain Christmas Carol, staged in Boston in 2019. Photograph: Jesse Faatz

Dolly Parton’s Smoky Mountain Christmas Carol

Southbank Centre, London, 8 December-8 January
Country legend Dolly Parton (newly inducted to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame) has written the music and lyrics for this twist on the Dickens classic, which transfers the story from Victorian London to 1930s Tennessee and makes Scrooge a mining baron.

Red Riding Hood

Citizens theatre, Glasgow, 9-23 December
Writer Lewis Hetherington, composer Michael John McCarthy and director Dominic Hill present a Citz fairytale for the over-fives. As if a marauding wolf wasn’t enough, its hero has to save Christmas from being banned. Pigs in blankets are advertised – though perhaps not to eat.

Alice in Wonderland

Brixton House, London, 1-31 December
A Christmas Carroll from fizzy theatre company Poltergeist. Alice is an 11-year-old who argues with her mum at a London Underground station and hops on to a carriage heading for Nonsense. Expect a fast-paced, rap-fuelled adventure at the new venue celebrating its first year in Lambeth.

The Snow Queen

Lyric, Belfast, 25 November-31 December
A wintry heart-warmer about fear, flowers, friendship and a big freeze, based on Hans Christian Andersen’s story about Gerda and Kai. Paul Boyd’s new musical version blows on to the Lyric’s main stage while its studio has an intriguing cabaret, Pigeon & Plum’s Vaudeville Circus, for the over-13s.


Chris Wiegand Stage editor

The GuardianTramp

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