London's theatres come into their own at Christmas, with festive shows, heartwarming musicals and traditional ballets treading the boards. We've selected some of our favourite shows in London this Christmas — covering family-friendly Christmas shows too.
Soho Cinders at Charing Cross Theatre
Charing Cross Theatre kicks off panto season early with Soho Cinders, its own interpretation of Cinderella. Think politics, sex scandals and lap-dancing step sisters. So far, so Soho. But stay with it as impoverished student Robbie becomes romantically involved with engaged London Mayoral candidate James Prince, aided along by a lively score and enough dancing to keep Len Goodman happy.
Soho Cinders. 24 October-31 December. Age 12+.
The Sleeping Beauty at The Royal Opera House
The Royal Ballet brings Marius Petipa's 19th-century choreography to life, combining it with Tchaikovsky’s masterful score to tell the tale of The Sleeping Beauty, a princess who pricks her finger on a spindle, falling into a deep sleep which only a prince's kiss can break.
It's rather special to see The Sleeping Beauty performed at this venue too — it was the ballet with which the Company reopened the Royal Opera House in 1946 after the second world war, its first production at its new home in Covent Garden
The Sleeping Beauty. 7 November 2019-16 January 2020.
White Christmas at Dominion Theatre
A cast of West End faces come together for feel-good festive musical White Christmas, a retelling of Irving Berlin's 1954 film of the same name. Set on Christmas Eve 1944, it tells the story of second world war soldiers turned Broadway stars. All of the original songs feature in this stage version — including, of course, White Christmas.
White Christmas. 16 November 2019-4 January 2020.
Zippo's Christmas Circus at Hyde Park Winter Wonderland
We went to Zippo's Christmas Circus one year. We gasped. We screamed. We squealed. We were in our mid-20s.
The Circus MegaDome in which it takes place — located within the huge Winter Wonderland site — is apparently the largest tented structure in the UK, offering an old-fashioned circus feel to proceedings. Ringmaster Paul Winston hosts as aerialists, acrobats, clowning acts and other performers take it in turn to wow the audience. Each show is only 45 minutes long, so ideal for kids — but if you choose to go for an adults-only night out, we certainly won't judge you.
Zippo's Christmas Circus. 21 November 2019-5 January 2020.
Cinderella at The Vaults, Waterloo
Cinderella's really being put through the wringer this year. In addition to Soho Cinders (above) and ArtsDepot's Rockin' Panto, Cinderella at The Vaults is described by its producers as 'Royle Family meets Elf' — which is exactly what Christmas is about, if you ask us. Staged in your average local boozer, it's a modern, warts-and-all version of the classic fairytale.
Cinderella. 22 November 2019-12 January 2020.
A Christmas Carol at The Old Vic
Dickens classic A Christmas Carol needs no introduction, and The Old Vic's production isn't the only version of it knocking around this Christmas (see below). But given it's been adapted for the stage by Jack Thorne — the playwright responsible for adapting Harry Potter and the Cursed Child — we have high hopes for this one. Peep Show's Paterson Joseph plays Scrooge, with a further 16 cast members offering support.
A Christmas Carol. 23 November 2019-18 January 2020. Age 8+. If you're a fan of A Christmas Carol, keep an eye on the Dickens Museum website, as it usually holds dramatic readings of the book around Christmas.
Christmas Carol - a fairy tale at Wilton's Music Hall
It's A Christmas Carol, but not as you know it. Ebenezer Scrooge is dead, as is Jacob Marley, and the story focuses instead on Fan Scrooge — Ebenezer's sister and Marley's widow, and a festive haunting she receives from three spirits (OK, so some of it may be familiar). It's based on the politics of 19th century London, and performed in the Victorian splendour of Wilton's Music Hall.
Christmas Carol - a fairy tale. 29 November 2019-4 January 2020.
Nativity! The Musical at Eventim Apollo
It's the show that puzzled everyone when it was announced that Danny Dyer was appearing alongside Dani Dyer (until Love Island cleared that one up) — and it's back for another run. Sharon Osborne and Rylan Clark-Neal star alongside the father-daughter duo, in the show based on the 2009 film of the same name, telling the story of a school nativity show, and a lie about a Hollywood producer that gets out of hand.
Nativity! The Musical. 11-29 December 2019.
Nutcracker at London Coliseum
Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without Nutcracker, and the English National Ballet is back with its annual rendition. Clara, her Nutcracker doll, the Mouse King and dancers from the puppet theatre are all present and correct, with a cast of over 100, a sparkling festive backdrop, and Tchaikovsky’s popular score. If you've never been to ballet but are looking for somewhere to start, this is absolutely the one.
Peter Pan Goes Wrong at Alexandra Palace
Mischief Theatre — the team behind the perennially popular The Play Goes That Wrong — take West End classic Peter Pan Goes Wrong to north London. Technical hitches, flying mishaps and cast disputes feature in the hilarious play-within-a-play story of a theatrical society attempting to put on a production of the Neverland-based classic.
Peter Pan Goes Wrong. 13 December 2019-5 January 2020.
Circus 1903 at Southbank Centre
Portrayed as a turn-of-the-century production, Circus 1903 conjures up the golden age of circus, with jugglers, contortionists, trapeze artists and even elephants — without using real animals. The puppeteers behind War Horse create life-sized versions of the huge animals to cavort on stage with the human performers. It's not Circus 1903's first rodeo, but a Brazilian Wheel of Death act is new for this year.
Circus 1903. 19 December 2019-5 January 2020.
The Nutcracker at Royal Albert Hall
Another chance to see the festive ballet, this time performed by the Birmingham Royal Ballet. The Royal Ballet Sinfonia performs Tchaikovsky's famous score as the Christmas classic plays out on stage in front of you. Ideal for something to do in that weird week between Christmas and New Year.
The Nutcracker. 28-31 December 2019.