Christmas is all about going to the theatre. Annoying kids? A play will shut them up. Relatives you can’t stand? Take them to a show so you don’t have to talk to them. Or, of course, you could just go and enjoy some stagey festive fun. London is beginning to pulsate with bright twinkly Christmas theatre, from big West End showstoppers to smaller but no less delicious treats in local venues. Here’s our list of the best stuff coming up.
Elf The Musical @ Dominion Theatre, on now until 2 January
We start with a big one. And can report that the most expensive show in London is… not bad. Whether that justifies watching it live rather than sticking the film on again is another question.
Raymond Briggs's Father Christmas @ Lyric, 20 November-24 December
This well-honed production of the children’s bedtime favourite sees a cantankerous Santa Claus dealing with the practical pitfalls of his busiest time of year. It also features live music and puppets.
Beauty And The Beast @ Polka Theatre, 20 November-7 February
This retelling of Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont’s fable sees Belle argue with her sister Cassandra, save her dad from the fearsome Beast then head off to his castle to set him free from his curse. How’s that for a strong female role model?
Jack And The Beanstalk @ Hackney Empire, 21 November-3 January
One of the best pantos in town, this one promises epic fun with a cast that includes Olivier-Award winning Grand Dame Clive Rowe.
Cinderella @ Lyric, 21 November-3 January
Traditional panto gets a streetwise reboot here, much like Cinderella who loses a glittery Converse rather than a glass slipper. For ages 6+.
The Twelve Days Of Christmas @ Chickenshead Theatre, 25 November-9 January
The carol full of counting practice serves as the basis for an adventure about four children who flee their evil step-family to follow a mysterious partridge on a quest for five gold rings. Inclusive fun for everyone aged 5+.
Cinderella And The Beanstalk @ Theatre 503, 25 November-30 December
More meta mayhem as three panto writers arrive on stage only to realise they haven’t got a cast; the show must go on however so they jump in and do their best to cover the cracks.
The Snowman @ Peacock Theatre, 25 November-3 January
Sadler's Wells's dance-filled adaptation of the popular tale by Raymond Briggs revolves around the friendship between a boy and his snowman. Elegant design and the obligatory inclusion of Walking in the Air means you’re pretty much guaranteed to melt.
Around The World In 80 Days @ St James Theatre, 26 November-16 January
An economical retelling of Jules Verne’s story that sees a cast of eight play 50 characters from every corner of the globe, as Phileas Fogg tries to circumnavigate it in record time. Suitable for ages 8 to 80.
A Christmas Carol @ Bridge House Theatre, 30 November-22 December
This terrific theatre pub in Penge is well-known for masterful minimalism — last year’s It’s A Wonderful Life was the show of the season. This time Guy Retallack directs a play about putting on the Victorian spook story — so something like Dickens meets Noises Off.
A Christmas Carol @ Noel Coward Theatre, 30 November-30 January
Perhaps the most deluxe Christmas package on the list — Oscar winner Jim Broadbent returns to the London stage as Scrooge in a new adaptation of the Dickens tale dreamt up by Improbable, the company that made an unforgettable production Shockheaded Peter.
Dick Whittington & His Cat @ Wilton's, 1-31 December
The richly characterful music hall gets its first ever family panto and it promises to be a cracker. Written by Roy Hudd, who also makes his debut as the Dame, the story starts in London’s docks before heading off to more exotic locales including the Sultan’s Palace.
Sleeping Beauty @ Sadler's Wells, 1 December-24 January
Celebrated choreographer Matthew Bourne hangs a dark retelling of the French fairy tale on Tchaikovsky’s great score with a supernatural gothic romance full of fairies and vampires.
A Flat Full Of Chandeliers @ Hen & Chickens, 1-19 December
This new comedy pulls apart British social mobility during a Christmas get-together under which secrets, lies and grudges simmer.
Hetty Feather @ artsdepot, 2-6 December
A stellar team have put together an award-winning version of Jacqueline Wilson’s book. Hetty escapes the Foundling Hospital and goes on a journey that takes her to the squirrel house and a travelling circus before finding a family of her own.
Town Hall Cherubs @ Battersea Arts Centre, 2 December-3 January
A cherub has fallen from the sky and needs help to find his way home. Garlands lead the audience on a journey through the old Town Hall with surprises in the rooms. Especially for children aged 2-5.
The Lorax @ The Old Vic, 3 December-16 January
This should be a humdinger: Dr. Seuss’s classic tale of a grouchy critter on a mission to protect the earth from tree-chopping suits known as The Once-ler. It features puppetry, songs and zany wordfangling humour.
Bewitchment On Black Ice @ Landor Theatre, 10 December-9 January
This looks special: a fairy tale about a powerful enchantress who's black heart turned the snow black — a show performed on synthetic black ice.
Mirror! Mirror! @ The King's Head, 3 December-9 January
This alternative, operatic take on the Snow White story comes to Upper Street after eight years at the Rosemary Branch Theatre so expect slick musical skill and well-timed punchlines.
Rapunzel @ Park Theatre, 3-7 December
Troubled times in the land of Püss Püss as a distraught king makes a deal with a witch to save his sick, pregnant wife; in exchange for medicine, the king promises to give away his baby daughter. Sounds like a dark one, but the bulk of the story plays out as wacky adventure.
Peter Pan Goes Wrong @ Apollo Theatre, 4 December-31 January 2016
Christmas incompetence doesn't get more enjoyable as the hapless theatricals from the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society take on Peter Pan.
Robin Hood @ Theatre Royal Stratford East, 5 December-23 January
The prince of thieves is on a mission to rob the rich, feed the poor and buckle his swash in the process. He takes on the evil Prince John and feisty Maid Marion in this action-packed panto.
Peter Pan @ New Wimbledon Theatre, 5 December-10 January
The casting alone makes this version of JM Barrie’s book worth a look: Austin Powers actor Verne Troyer, comedians Marcus Brigstocke and Jarred Christmas plus dance troupe Flawless head off to Neverland.
Pride & Prejudice: The Panto @ Cockpit, 8-20 December
Get lost in Austen with this ramped up version of her novel. The Bennet sisters are set to be married off but love and marriage prove to be elusive bedfellows for Elizabeth until a stranger arrives in Merriton.
Room On The Broom @ Artsdepot, 8 December-3 January
A witch and her cat fly into all kinds of trouble and meet a dragon, dog, bird and frog in this musical adaptation of the hit picture book by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler. For children age 3+
Kitten In Heels @ The Lost Theatre, 10-12 and 18-20 December
There’s a timely mayoral race to win here as Dick and his cat journey to London to seek their fortunes. Excess All Areas are masters at the silly stuff having been doing it for 15 years. Adults only.
The Three Kings @ St James Theatre, 14-19 December
The three kings in Gordon Rider’s is the name of a pub and our heroes a pair of boozy builders called Block and Tackle. A fine cast chew on each other in a play that revels in strong language and adult themes. For ages 16+
Land of Lights @ artsdepot, 15 December-3 January
Immersive fun for young’uns as the story of the little people in the Land of Lights unfolds with twinkly magic that involves sights, sounds, smells and textures. For children aged 3-5 especially.
DICK! @ Leicester Square Theatre, 15-30 December
This filthily fun adult panto sees characters with names like Alice Fitznicely and Sofonda Cox in a Carry On-style caper through Pantoland. Expect more in-your-end-o than you can shake a stick at.
Peppa Pig's Surprise @ Duke of York's Theatre, 18 December-17 January
Life size puppets and high recognition factor make this a sure fire bet to keep the pre-schoolers happy (if not quiet). Just what is the surprise Mummy and Daddy Pig have in store for Peppa?
Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs @ Hoxton Hall, 19-24 December
For the newly-restored hall’s first ever panto, they’ve gone for a ribald version of the Grimm Brothers’ classic with an East End twist.
A Christmas Carol @ Middle Temple Hall, 22-30 December
The setting of Middle Temple Hall adds atmosphere to this musical adaptation of the festive classic. Dickens actually studied law at the institution so the 16th-century building with its cobbled alleyways and gas-lit courtyards is a fitting backdrop to stage the story of a miser's comeuppance.
Dear Father Christmas @ Soho Theatre, 22 December-2 January
There’s Christmassy chaos to be dealt with: the presents are mixed up and the North Pole Polar Bear has gone missing. Can Santa and Ella the elf sort it all out in time? Ideal for children aged 3-6.
See also these 8 Family Friendly Christmas Shows