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From top pantomimes, to all-star variety shows, musicals and festive theatre of 2023

Ladies and gentleman, girls and boys, we are presenting our annual guide to the best Christmas theatre shows… OH YES WE ARE.

It’s not Christmas until men in extravagant drag are wheeled out to make jokes about your Aunt Fanny and cockatoos.

And we’ve got all the sequins, tinsel-covered jazz hands and dancing elves to see you through to 2024.

So point your eyes here and then take them there.


Peter Pan at the London Palladium

This is the ultimate panto, on steroids. Last year, a giant beanstalk caused jaws (including our own) to drop as it grew through the audience to the ceiling. This year, Julian Clary returns to steal the show with smut and sequins as Seaman Smee and Jennifer Saunders replaces last year’s Dawn French as the star, playing Captain Hook. The eighth season of this brilliantly camp and extra production sees the return of Palladium panto favourites, including Paul Zerdin, Nigel Havers and Gary Wilmot, with insane sets, special effects and costumes. Peter Pan, London Palladium, 8 Argyll St, London W1F 7TF. 9 December - 14 January. Tickets from £75

Elf the Musical

Will Ferrell's festive movie stalwart, Elf heads back to the West End for Elf the Musical a Christmas cracker of a musical with bells on. With Matthew Sklar’s fun and emotive score, it follows the story of Buddy, who mistakenly crawled into Santa’s bag as a baby and was raised as an elf. He is the North Pole’s biggest misfit and finally crashes in Central Park on Santa’s sleigh to save Christmas forever. Dominion Theatre, 268-269 Tottenham Court Road, London, W1T 7AQ. 15 November to 6 January. Tickets from £30 per person. 4+ years

A Christmas Carol at the Old Vic

The Ebeneezer baton has been passed onto Christopher Eccleston for The Old Vic’s annual staging of A Christmas Carol. The seventh version of the festive Dickens classic is being touted as one of the best yet, with the Doctor Who star masterfully switching from bah-humbugging old miser to fat goose-sharing Christmas cheer on two legs. A Christmas Carol, The Old Vic, 103 The Cut, London SE1 8NB 11 November - 6 January. Tickets from £13 pp

Hansel and Gretal at Shakespeare's Globe

Follow the trail of breadcrumbs all the way to Shakespeare's Globe this Christmas, for their beautiful new production of Hansel and Gretal. Poet Laureate, Simon Armitage transforms the Globe Theatre into the gingerbread and lollipop festooned sphere of the world's most famous witch-conquering siblings, for this classic Brother Grimm fairytale. In this timely retelling, a woodcutting dad and breadmaking mum leave their children in the woods to protect them from their war-torn village. And through music, magic and songs, little audiences follow the siblings on their adventure from a trail of treats to a strage old lady with a plan of her own. Hansel and Gretal, Shakespeare's Globe, 21 New Globe Walk, London SE1 9DT. Tickets from £5 (standing) to £59 (seated, peak performances)

Lapland UK

The word "immersive" gets bandied about, but Lapland's astonishing theatrical production is the definition of it, with shiny jingle bells on. Pure Christmas magic, which leaves visitors of all ages in no doubt that Father Christmas exists and resides within this ancient elven civilisation at Lapland UK. This extraordinary, immersive experience starts when your child opens the icy cold, wax-sealed invitation from the Big Guy, inviting them to Lapland to help the elves make their toys. Deep in Ascot's snow-covered, Enchanted Forest, the elf folk present the Small People with special elven passports, enabling entry through the secret doorway to Lapland, where they will discover a jaw-dropping world full of elven characters, the toy factory, real reindeer and huskies, Mother Christmas’s Kitchen, The Elven Village complete with ice rink, elf emporium, restaurant and Elva’s Post Office for a magical, four-hour experience in an astonishingly detailed and sprawling world. Finally, deeper in the forest, past the magical sleigh, they head to Father Christmas’s wooden cabin and see their own names handwritten on the Good List, before meeting St Nick himself, in front of a roaring fire - he knows plenty about each child and will present them with a toy and a special bell, only awarded to his best elves.

Lapland UK, Whitmoor Forest, Swinley Rd, Winkfield Row, Ascot SL5 8BD. Tickets from £59 pp in November and from £89pp in December. Opens on 11 November until 24 December

Christmas at Narnia

Step through the magical, fur-filled wardrobe at Leeds Castle into Christmas at Narnia, an immersive retelling of CS Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. An icy spell has transformed this secret wonderland into an eternal winter, and little visitors will embark on a snowy adventure to restore the spirit of Christmas and break the spell. They will encounter Narnia legends including the fawn, Mr Tumnus and Aslan the Great Lion. The quest to save Narnia will see them sneaking onto the White Witch’s sleigh and learning combat skills from Mrs Beaver, with a glimpse of Santa himself. Christmas at Narnia, Leeds Castle, Broomfield, Maidstone ME17 1PL. 25 November to 1 January. Tickets from £22.50

The Elves and the Magic Bear

The Old Royal Naval College will present immersive family show, The Elves and the Magic Bear filled with magic, singing, dancing and slapstick silliness. It follows a chaotic elf adventure, after Santa’s helpers discover a bag of untouched Christmas letters a few days before the big day, spurring a quest to ensure all children receive a gift from the Big FC. The Old Royal Naval College’s Christmas programme also includes storytelling with Father Christmas, a carol concert in the stunning Chapel of St Peter and St Paul, and a rare opportunity to see the breathtaking art installation Coalescence by Paul Cocksedge, made from more than 2,500 pieces of anthracite excavated from the UK’s last remaining coal mine. The Elves and the Magic Bear, The Old Royal Naval College, London SE10 9NN. 9-21 December, Tickets £14

The Snowman

St John’s Smith Square will be transformed into a winter wonderland for Raymond Briggs’s timeless classic, The Snowman. On 9 and 10 December, young fans can enjoy the festive classic on the big screen, accompanied by a live soundtrack by Southbank Sinfonia. In partnership with Carrot Productions, world leaders in orchestra and film events for families, the programme also includes The Bear and the Piano, based on the award-winning book by David Litchfield. It features music by Daniel Whibley and is narrated live by a surprise guest. The Snowman, St John’s Smith Square, London SW1P 3HA. 9 and 10 December. From £15. Under twos go free.

Charlie Cook's Favourite Book

Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s deliciously meta book about the magic of reading is getting a major newadaptation from our favourite puppet alchemists, Little Angel Theatre. Adaptors Barb Jungr and Samantha Lane (who also directs) will reunite for the show, fresh from their Olivier-nominated collaboration on Donaldson and Scheffler’s other hit book, The Smartest Giant in Town. The puppet-filled musical will be supported by a programme of play-based workshops to inspire little readers and give families and teachers the tools to explore books through play. The story follows Charlie diving through books, magazine and encyclopaedias and encompasses 11 books, complete with ghosts, pirates, aliens and dragons. It will move from page to stage from 18 November to 4 February, before going on a UK tour next year. Little Angel Studios, Sebbon St, London N1 2EH. Running time: 1 hour. 18 November - 4 February. Adult tickets £16. Child tickets £14 (1-17) All tickets £8 Thurs and Friday at 4.45pm.

Cinderella at the Lyric Hammersmith

Yes you can go to the ball, to enjoy Vikki Stone’s modern twist on Cinderella. Here, Cinders runs her own business at Shepherd’s Bush Market, where the Prince - in cunning disguise - has as mooch and falls in love with her. Annoyingly, pesky paps cause him to flee. And so begins a slapstick quest to unite the unlikely pair, with stepsisters Muffy and Gusset and stepmum Lady Jelly Bottom working hard to stop their happily ever after.

Lyric Hammersmith Theatre, Lyric Square, King St, London W6 0QL 18 November - 6 January. Tickets from £10

Raymond Briggs' Father Christmas

Back by popular demand, Lyric’s festive retelling of Raymond Briggs’ much-loved story returns, to take children on a journey through the busiest day of Santa’s year: Christmas Eve. In this comical tale, Father Christmas wakes from a dream of sun, sea and sand, only to discover that it’s the night before Christmas, and there is much to be done. Co-produced with the Olivier award-nominated Pins & Needles Productions, and combining puppetry, music and the Big Guy himself, children watch as he prepares the deliveries, feeds the reindeer, overcomes various hiccups and finally takes flight into a snowy sky. Lyric Hammersmith Theatre, Lyric Square, King St, London W6 0QL. 22 November - 30 December. Tickets from £10

A Christmas Gaiety at the Royal Albert Hall

Royal Albert Hall brings a one-off variety show even camper than Christmas, hosted by Peaches Christ and conductor Edwin Outwater and featuring Ru Paul legends and much-loved drag stars including Baga Chips and Le Gateau Chocolat alongside national treasure Sandi Toksvig with music by the BBC Concert Orchestra.

A Christmas Gaiety, Royal Albert Hall, Kensington Gore, South Kensington, London SW7 2AP. 12 December.

Christmas Actually, Royal Festival Hall

Curated by Love Actually creator, Richard Curtis in partnership with Comic Relief, this turbo-Christmas variety show draws an all-star cast for an evening of live music, Christmas stories, poetry and comedy. Christmas, Actually. Royal Festival Hall. Southbank Centre, Belvedere Rd, London SE1 8XX 7-11 December 7-11. Tickets from £25.50 pp

Wishmas: A Fantastical Christmas Adventure

This event is made by immersive entertainment juggernauts, Secret Cinema and directed by Punchdrunk’s former, acclaimed director Elgiva Field, so expectations and excitement are as high as Santa’s sleigh. The experience will transform the huge space beneath Waterloo Station into The Old Bauble Factory, where visitors will enter a magical portal into an enchanted world to discover where all of the Christmas wishes take flight. Visitors will board the Wishmas Train and meet Wishkeepers, Robins and Father Christmas himself as they explore magical rooms and ensure that no wish is ever forgotten, before enjoying Christmas crafts and cheer in the Wishmas Fair.

The Old Bauble Factory, 1 Launcelot Street, Waterloo, London, SE1 7AD. 14 November - 31 December. Tickets from £29pp

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