Christmas is almost upon us, but there’s still time to warm your cockles with a festive trip to the theatre.

Some are quirky, some are thoughtful, some take their lead from classic Christmas genres, and others invent their own approach, but whether you’re in London or beyond, here are just a few of our favourite alternative shows to catch for a little extended Christmas cheer.


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What happens when you strip a lavish, well-known story back to its basic roots? New International Encounter’s Beauty and the Beast at the Cambridge Junction does just that in a charmingly offbeat take on the fairytale, best known in its plush gilded Disney guise. As pure and unmaterialistic as its heroine, the production shuns over-the-top staging for simplicity, and delivers a rustic but rewarding telling. Beauty and the Beast is at the Cambridge Junction until December 31.

Granted you’ll have to be quick to catch this one as it wraps up this week, but if you’re in Oxford, the hilarious and heart-warming 30 Christmases by Jonny Donahoe, with songs by Jonny and the Baptists, is at the Old Fire Station. Family, politics, sibling rivalry and rebellion are at the heart of the action as brother and sister Jonny and Rachel attempt to have their first good Christmas in years – despite everything. 30 Christmases is at the Old Fire Station until December 23.

Christmas can be a joy, but for some, it can also be the hardest time of year. LOVE, a new play written through a devising process by Alexander Zeldin, isn’t the most garishly tinsel-decked of offerings, but with a focus on London’s housing crisis, and the stories of some of the many who’ll be spending Christmas in temporary accommodation, it focuses on the intimate family love that threads its way through the toughest of circumstances. LOVE is at the Dorfman Theatre at the National Theatre until January 10. Read our review here.

Bollywood meets panto in a big-hearted genre fusion in Bollywood Jack at Tara Arts. Splicing the two colourful genres, it’s a glitteringly arch, dance-filled take on the more traditional Jack and the Beanstalk. Full of local references to Wandworth, it follows the fate of Dame Moowallah as she loses her job at St George’s Hospital thanks to budget cuts, meaning that she and her Bollywood-obsessed son Zak have to take their beloved holy cow, Moomoo down to Tooting market to earn the family their keep. Bollywood Jack is at Tara Arts until January 7.

The golden era of Victorian music hall is recreated for a lavish night of mesmerising merriment, rowdy sing-a-longs and an all-round knees up as The Star at the Liverpool Playhouse creates its cheekily enchanting ode to music hall. Human catapults, daring escapologists, a live cow and death-defying aerial wizards may – or may not be – on the bill for the night, but a jolly good time certainly is. The Star is at the Liverpool Playhouse until January 14.

The Wind in the Willows isn’t the most obvious Christmas tale, but with friendship, courage and triumph despite the odds at its heart, it’s got all the festive feels. At the Rose Theatre in Kingston, Ciaran McConville’s adaptation, with plucky heroes Ratty, Mole and Badger, along with horn-tooting Mr Toad, is a clever, wit-filled version of Kenneth Graham’s classic. The Wind in the Willows is at the Rose Theatre, Kingston until January 3. Read our review here.

If an alternative staging of a well-known tale wins enough plaudits and awards, is it still alternative? Let’s not worry about that when it comes to Cinderella: A Fairy Tale. Back at the Tobacco Factory in Bristol, where it was first staged in 2011, the luminous, quirky and thoroughly engaging production has scooped up an Off West End award and been nominated for an Olivier since then. It’s been to London, but now it’s back where it began, so join gentle but brave stompy boot-wearing Ella and her bird friends as they help her navigate a life turned upside down. Cinderella: A Fairytale is at the Tobacco Factory until January 22.

Image: Claire Haigh