December in theatre means one massive glitter-strewn thing, and that thing is Christmas shows. Yup, family pantos and fairytale adaptations and queer cabarets and Dickens updates are taking over basically every stage in the UK this month as ‘the season’ scatters her coveted gold dust over box offices like a giant, magic wand-waving fairy godmother. This piece will not pore over the intricacies of her festive largesse because frankly, where would you start. Instead I want to offer a suggestion; why not use your obligatory Christmassy theatre trip as an excuse to explore your most local theatre – especially if it’s a small one, an indie one, a space that’s not in use all year round? Max Smiles’s engagingly ambitious (and hugely fun to read) London Theatre Marathon project has sent her to 276 theatres so far, and she’s still got 28 to go before the year ends. She’s made me want to build up relationships with local spaces instead of gallivanting across to the shiner ones on the other side of the river – so I’m heading to Greenwich Theatre, where the drinks are cheaper, the jokes are SE postcode relevant, and if the nieces and nephews get spooked by a sudden black-out or a disturbing animal costume, it’ll be a damn sight easier to transport them home.
Despite aforementioned Christmas explosion, it’s actually a pretty busy December for enticing-looking new theatre. Jackie Sibblies Drury’s Fairview is coming to the Young Vic – it’s set at a dinner that implodes, up-ending audience expectations (read Molly Grogan’s Exeunt NYC review from its New York premiere here). There’s more experimentation on offer at Eve Leigh’s Midnight Movie, which is breaking new ground in accessibility terms by offering a ‘digital body’ that can be experienced by anyone who’s unable to make it to the theatre. Every time I think about the Donmar’s mindblowingly provocatively titled Teenage Dick my brain breaks a little. A Christmas show. Called Teenage Dick. Okay. But the premise is very sound; a high school Shakespeare adaptation (in the grand tradition of utter classics like Ten Things I Hate About You) that reimagines Richard III as a teenager who’s bullied because of his disability, and then embarks on a bid to rise to class presidency.
Zia Ahmed’s I Wanna Be Yours is coming to Bush Theatre; Hannah Greenstreet’s Exeunt review writes that this emotive, wittily-observed story feels “like stepping into a warm bath”. It plays alongside The Arrival, which Frey Kwa Hawking’s review calls “well-observed, compassionate and beautiful”. And excitingly, there’s the prospect of a new Breach Theatre show to warm up the wintry nights; Joan of Leeds is described as “an obscene medieval mystery play with live music” which honestly might be all I want from theatre.
Everything’s coming up roses this Christmas (for musical theatre fans, anyway). Only a few years after Imelda Staunton’s storming central turn in the Chichester/West End revival, Sondheim’s stunningly bleak musical Gypsy is getting another major production. Ria Jones and Melissa James will play its central mother-daughter pairing, in a staging by Jo Davies for Royal Exchange Manchester. And over at Home Manchester, there’s a chance to see Jonny Woo and Le Gateau Chocolat’s delightfully shambolic A Night at the Musicals, where they’ll work through a line-up of West End and Broadway hits that’s messier than the aftermath of a three hour Christmas dinner.
On 30th November, Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse are marking International Day of People with Disabilities with cabaret night DisabiliTease, hosted by award-winning burlesque artist Little Peaches. Get a free sparkling cocktail on arrival (non boozy options are thoughtfully provided) and settle in for an evening of activism, spoken word, and literal fire.
Tobacco Factory’s sci-fi drag show Kirk Vs Ming is serving up camp without the Christmas; it’s the latest show from the creatives behind wonderfully named Wardrobe Theatre shows like Oedipuss in Boots, and it casts Ming as a Scrooge-like figure who’s got to work out if intergalactic domination is really making him happy.
Qing dynasty Chinese writer Pu Songling has inspired Strange Tales, an immersive show by Grid Iron that creates a gothic-sounding world inhabited by eerie animal puppets and digital projections.
Exeunt Recommends is a regular series highlighting the shows and festivals our writers are excited about: we try to make it UK-wide, but the range of areas featured is subject to what’s on. For more tips, browse through our recent reviews.