London's awash with theatre shows at Christmas. These are our picks of the best family-friendly productions, both traditional and more modern — all ideal for a festive day out with the family. Looking for panto? We've got that covered over here.
The Bolds at Unicorn Theatre
Meet The Bolds, an ordinary family living on an ordinary street, hiding a big secret — they're hyenas. Live music and songs come into the mix as they try to navigate life, and Christmas, without giving their secret away. The show is an adaptation of the series of books by the same name, written by comedian Julian Clary.
The Bolds at Unicorn Theatre, 11 November-31 December 2023. Age 6+. Audio describer performance 16 December, BSL + relaxed performances 30 November and 3 December, relaxed performance 8 December, captioned performance 9 December.
Elf The Musical at Dominion Theatre
Fast becoming a staple of Christmas in London, Elf The Musical once again pitches up at the Dominion Theatre for the all-singing, all-dancing stage adaptation of the 2003 Will Ferrell film. Explore the North Pole with Buddy, a human who was raised as an elf alongside Santa's other helpers, but who can't quite work out why he doesn't belong.
Elf The Musical at Dominion Theatre, 15 November 2023-6 January 2024. Age 4+. BSL interpreted performance on 30 December. If you fancy getting a refresher of the film too, there are plenty of festive film screenings in London this year.
Zippos Christmas Circus at Winter Wonderland
Acrobatics, aerial stunts and comedy characters appear in Zippos Christmas Circus, a regular feature of Hyde Park Winter Wonderland, inside what is apparently the largest tent structure in the UK. With a 45-minute run time, there's just enough action to keep the attention of kids of all ages — and there's a lot to see and do in the rest of Winter Wonderland if you want to make a day of it.
Zippos Christmas Circus at Hyde Park Winter Wonderland, 17 November 2023-1 January 2024. Note that pushchairs and prams aren't allowed inside the big top — there's a dedicated buggy park nearby. You'll need a Winter Wonderland admission ticket in addition to your circus ticket.
The Snowman at Peacock Theatre
Spend an evening walking in the air as the Birmingham Repertory Theatre brings the classic kids' book-turned-animated-film alive on stage as a ballet for an impressive 26th year (perhaps he won't melt this time around...). Skilled choreography, an enchanting set with fake snow, and that famous soundtrack combine for a show that melts the hearts of kids and adults alike.
The Snowman at Peacock Theatre, 18 November-31 December 2023. For all ages. Relaxed performance 29 November, audio described performance 9 December (with optional touch tour).
The Toymaker's Child at Chickenshed Theatre
Prepare for a modern twist on a classic tale, as more than 200 performers join forces for The Toymaker's Child, telling the story of a toymaker who worries about his child's loneliness and lack of companions. So, like all good parents, he uses a magical 3D printer to create an AI child as a friend. That AI child's serial number? PIN:0Cch10
The Toymaker's Child at Chickenshed Theatre, 22 November 2023-13 January 2024. Age 5+. All performances feature integrated BSL. Captioned performances on 15, 16, 17 December, audio described performances 19, 20, 21, 23 December (with optional touch tours).
Dear Santa at Artsdepot
Legendary children's author Rod Campbell (of Spot the Dog and Dear Zoo fame) also wrote festive book Dear Santa. Odds are, your kids are already familiar with the story of Santa trying to deliver the perfect gift to Sarah, and needing a bit of help from Elf along the way, but this is a chance to see it come to life on stage in a 55-minute show — plus, they actually get to meet Santa in his grotto after the show, and receive a gift, making the day even more special.
Dear Santa at Artsdepot, 2-24 December 2023. Age 2-7. Relaxed performances 13 and 17 December, BSL interpreted performances 10 December. The venue picks up after Christmas with There's A Monster In Your Christmas Show (27 December 2023-7 January 2024, age 2+).
Finding Santa at Bloomsbury Theatre
Kids keen to get involved in everything? Have we got the show for you... Finding Santa is a choose-your-own-adventure story of a play, where the audience plays a part in choosing what happens next. Find out how letters for Santa reach the North Pole (little ones could have some follow-up questions about that one, so be prepared...), and how his elves make sure they all get there on time.
Finding Santa at Bloomsbury Theatre, 7-24 December 2023. Age 3+.
Hansel and Gretel at The Globe Theatre
Where better to introduce younger members of the family to the magic of festive theatre than at Shakespeare's Globe? Legendary Brothers Grimm's fairytale Hansel and Gretel has been reworked into an epic poem by Poet Laureate Simon Armitage, and it's told here with the help of music and songs. Left to fend for themselves in the woods, Hansel and Gretel try to find their way home, until they get sidetracked by a trail of tasty treats...
Hansel and Gretel at The Globe Theatre, 8 December 2023-7 January 2024. Age 5+. Captioned performances 22 December and 6 January, BSL performances 22 December and 3 January, audio described performance 2 January, relaxed performances 4 and 6 January.
Wolf Witch Giant Fairy at Royal Opera House
Folk opera Wolf Witch Giant Rabbit is a collaboration between the Royal Opera House and theatre company Little Bulb, which questions what we know about fairytales. Set in a magical wood full of fantastical creatures, it uses music and magic to tell stories of lovers in peril, witches on broomsticks and wolves in disguise. The production won an Olivier Award for its 2021 run.
Wolf Witch Giant Fairy at Royal Opera House, 11 December 2023-6 January 2024. Suitable for all ages. All performances are relaxed performances, BSL interpreted performances 21 December and 4 January, audio described performance and touch tour 20 December.
Disney On Ice Present 100 Years Of Wonder at The O2
Cards on the table: we were raised on a diet of Disney On Ice, so we tend to get a little over-excited when the all-singing, all-dancing ice show skates back into town. This year's theme is 100 Years of Wonder, celebrating Disney's centenary, with the main man Mickey Mouse setting out on a journey to discover his favourite memory of all time, joined by his friends. Look out for Disney princesses, plus characters from Fantasia, Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Frozen — and 2021 film Encanto features for the first time.
Disney On Ice at The O2, 20-31 December 2023. Suitable for all ages. If your family loves this, there's a Disney100 exhibition at ExCeL right now. And if they decide they want to try ice skating themselves? We've got you covered there too.
Frozen The Musical at Theatre Royal Drury Lane
It's not specifically a Christmas show, but Frozen the Musical does have a snowman, princesses, and plenty of songs to sing along to, so it's bound to be popular with younger members of the family. If you've not got time to visit before Christmas, it's booking until the summer, so you could always slip a ticket into their Christmas stocking... if you don't, they might never Let It Go.
Frozen The Musical, ongoing — currently booking until June 2023. Recommended age 6+, no under-4s admitted.
Non-festive theatre shows in London this Christmas
Fed up of the kids talking about Christmas, asking about Christmas and singing about Christmas, all day long? The above shows all have a festive twist which'll only fire them up further. If they/you need a break from all that for a couple of hours, read on for family theatre shows on in London this festive period, but which aren't actually about Christmas. We can't guarantee there will be no mention of the 'C' word whatsoever, but it won't be all jingle bells and snowflakes.
MY NEIGHBOUR TOTORO: In case you missed it, the Studio Ghibli adaptation of My Neighbour Totoro returns to Barbican, and is magical both for kids coming to Studio Ghibli's surreal fantasy world for the first time, and for longstanding adult fans of the 1988 film. Honest truth: you'll struggle to get tickets for a show this side of Christmas, unless you get lucky with returns, but at time of writing there's availability for early January onwards. Barbican Centre, 21 November 2023-23 March 2024
PEPPA PIG: Beloved porcine character Peppa Pig and her friends are back on stage for Peppa Pig's Fun Day Out, which sees them visiting the zoo and the beach, with plenty of singing and dancing involved. All ages. Theatre Royal Haymarket, 30 November-31 December 2023
GRUFFALO'S CHILD: Oh help! Oh no! It's a Gruffalo! The stage adaptation of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler's picture book, The Gruffalo's Child, sees the mystical creature's offspring venturing out into the deep, dark wood at night. Mild peril ensues, but there are enough songs and laughs to keep it lighthearted. Age 3+. Garrick Theatre. 1 December 2023-7 January 2024
SMARTEST GIANT: Another entry for successful duo Julia Donaldson and Alex Scheffler. The Smartest Giant In Town gets the theatrical treatment, with music and puppets telling the story of giant George, who smartens himself up with some new clothes. All ages. St Martin's Theatre, 2 December 2023-7 January 2024
CHICKEN LEGS: Puppets, projections and live music feature in The House with Chicken Legs, a show for slightly older children, about Marinka and her house, which has chicken legs and won't stay still. Ages 9+. Southbank Centre, 13-30 December 2023
BLUEY'S BIG PLAY: If you've got kids of a certain age, you're probably VERY familiar with the ins and outs of CBeebies character Bluey, and she (yes, Bluey's a girl!) makes her UK stage debut in Bluey's Big Play which uses puppets to bring the characters to life. All ages. Southbank Centre, 20 December 2023-2 January 2024