When people ask me, an incessant theatregoer, the inevitable question of “What should I go and see?” I often find myself going to the big thing, the cool thing, the thing that everyone met like a long-lost child. But if they’re not working in the industry, and not willing to pay £50+ for a ticket, it also feels a bit unfair. Because that show probably has a handful of tickets left at top price on a scant few matinees. And it feels doubly unfair at Christmas, where trips to the theatre (in my family anyway) spiral into huge multi-generational outings that are probably paid for by a single, overstretched debit card.
If you’re a rich wizard (or willing to hit returns queues in softly falling sleet) then definitely book up Romantics Anonymous or The Grinning Man or the NT’s Pinocchio. You’ll have a ball. If you’re not, then here are some of the shows at smaller venues that I’m most excited about taking my family and friends to. At the time of writing, they’ve all got plenty of tickets going at well under £15 per head – and unlike the bigger venues, their cheap tickets won’t vanish overnight like mince pies left for Santa.
Things you can (but certainly don’t need to) take kids to
The Ramshackle House – Stratford Circus (£12)
Upswing’s last show, Bedtime Stories, involved tucking kids into onstage beds, and looked adorable. And this looks equally great, creating a rickety house that falls apart like Mog’s living room in last year’s unsurpassable Sainsburys’ Christmas ad.
Rapunzel – Theatre Royal Stratford East (£10-£38)
At some pantos, the cheap seats will make you feel like you’re on the kids’ table at Christmas dinner, straining to feel part of things as you seize up on a piano stool. Not so at Stratford East’s magnificently welcoming, tiny, beautiful auditorium, where balcony seats aren’t much more than £10. Their annual panto is properly kid-friendly, with a kind of surreal Monty Python edge, peppy original songs and a consistently inclusive, feminist message.
Snow White & Rose Red – Battersea Arts Centre (£12.50-£22)
I will be going to RashDash’s family show with or without family because it looks incredible. How great to have an unapologetically feminist show to take kids too (and I really hope people will take boys, as well as girls).
The Little Christmas Tree – Puppet Theatre Barge (£12, £8.50 kids)
If anyone in my family was still aged under seven, I’d definitely drag them to this. Using old-school wooden marionettes, this is one to file under ‘gentle pleasures’, but how exciting to be seeing a show on a real boat, moored in picture-perfect canal land Little Venice. Especially one where the performance starts with the ringing of the ship’s bell.
But probably don’t take children to…
Thirty Christmases – New Diorama (£10.50-£15)
Okay, I’m more than a bit biased because I regularly drink cider with Jonny & the Baptists and gaze longingly at Paddy’s beautiful blonde hair (good politics stimulate the follicles). But this looks great: they’re teaming up with comedian Rachel Parris for a catchy, right-on song-filled story of grown-up siblings spending Christmas together.
Sing-A-Long-A Muppet Christmas Carol – Camden People’s Theatre (£12)
Only on for two nights (December 21st and 22nd) this Christmas show is a night of video mayhem launched on an unready world by Sh!t Theatre (of DollyWould fame). I can’t tell you how many press releases I read each year for stage versions of Dickens’ Christmas Carol: they give me a sort of dull shuddering deja vu feeling. Only muppets and drunken performance artists can make those well-trodden words sing to me now.
And really really don’t take children to (they won’t get past the bouncers anyway)…
Goosed – Royal Vauxhall Tavern (£17, £12.50 concs)
The RVT’s annual queer panto reimagines Mother Goose (the best of all panto plots, don’t @ me) for a setting in, ahem, a pub in Vauxhall. It stars Fairy Lamé, who it’s probably not a reach to suggest is at least inspired by Amy Lamé, the RVT institution, Morrissey fan and literal night czar. And yes, it’s slightly over budget, but consider it a donation to keeping London’s imperilled queer nightlife afloat.