The Arbuturian’s Guide to Festive Theatrics


Something is very wrong with me. Normally I assume the disposition of a festering cloudlet of ill-will and cynicism, cursing under my hot angry breath everything from the weather to strangers who grip the tube pole at an utterly ridiculous level, rendering it impossible for all others to keep their balance without playing Twister with their forearms. But of late, I have come over all U-rated and cuddly. These most perturbing symptoms have included: grinning like a Strictly Come Dancing contestant on crack, shamelessly revelling in bone-soaking torrents of rain, gazing at fairy lights as though they are Ryan Gosling dipped in chocolate, and smothering people with bear hugs with alarming frequency. It’s as if Disney is making a movie of my life. It’s terrible. It’s hideous. It can only be Christmas.

After the ritual sacrifice of Guy Fawkes, there is no point denying it any longer: at the last sparkling crackle of firework, it is officially the run up to Yuletide festivities. Premature catalogues are dropped through the postbox, Regent Street is adorned with twinkly, tacky pseudo-advertising and Colleen Nolan is hogging our TV screens, surgically attached to a cheap, sweaty turkey. We all know that the actual day is usually a horrible let-down, culminating in an champagne-fuelled slinging match over the exact rules of Trivial Pursuit, so the sooner we embrace and enjoy the run up, the better – and what a run-up it can be.

Laid at our feet, every Christmas, is a sumptuous feast of cultural morsels. Unfortunately, cultural standards have woefully slipped across many fields: Christmas music used to mean rock’n’roll Christians gussied up in anaemic tinsel, shaking their hips with as much fervour as their jingle bells. Now Christmas music is a teary-eyed Cowell-hatched cretin warbling about their dead Gran. Christmas movies used to mean Aled Jones melting our frosty hearts with angelic falsetto, or feeling a ‘Walton family’ glow as your significant others gathered to be emotionally sentimental and morally educated by It’s A Wonderful Life.

Now Christmas films usually mean The Santa Claus number five thousand and three, or some nominal festive twaddle fronted by Schwarzenegger (I’m looking at you, Jingle All the Way), or if we’re really lucky, Polar Express, whose CGI is so face-meltingly freaky NO child will sleep through the night.

But one cultural niche that has retained all of the fairytale magic of yesteryear is the ballet. At the sight of a Nutcracker poster I get a tingle of nostalgia for being trussed up in petticoats and patent round-toed shoes to be escorted to the magical world of Clara, and now, no Christmas would feel quite right without it. But festive dance needn’t just mean tutus and leaping candy canes. There’s a glorious plethora of lithe bodies and riveting stories for every taste, so no matter what your preference, be it staid or saucy, there’s no excuse not to indulge in some festive frolics with these handpicked morsels of theatrical conviviality.

For the Traditionalist

The Royal Ballet’s The Nutcracker
December 3rd-January 18th, The Royal Opera House. Tickets.

The Nutcracker is like the angel on top of the balletic Christmas tree. Taking up its usual residence at the Royal Opera House, the classic tale of Clara’s Yuletide wanderings through a dream world of dancing presents, Mice Kings and innocent infatuation is the longest standing festive tradition in ballet. If you’re a romantic at heart, or a sucker for tulle and sparkles, there’s no way you can hear the sweet twinkle of Tchaikovsky’s Sugar Plum Fairy without your stomach doing flips of excitement.

For the Juvenile, or Juvenile-Minded

Birmingham Rep’s The Snowman
November 30th-January 8th, The Peacock Theatre. Tickets.

I challenge you to find a child that isn’t seduced by Aled Jones’ falsetto warblings, or by Raymond Briggs’ charming tale of friendship and magic. Back for a record-breaking 14th year, The Snowman is not a technical masterpiece, but the target demographic isn’t exactly interested in male virtuosity or countless fouettes. What it does have, however, is slapstick, a storyline that requires no previous knowledge of balletic mime, and fake snow! What’s not to love?

For the Experimental

Matthew Bourne’s Nutcracker!
December 6th-January 22nd, Sadler’s Wells. Tickets.

Matthew Bourne’s quirkily camp take on The Nutcracker is fast becoming as popular as the original. With choreography that magnificently straddles elements of ballet, contemporary and jazz dance, Bourne’s hyper-theatrical Nutcracker! is a tongue-in-cheek, and rather more adult, tale. With dancing gumballs dressed up like bubblegum Mods, and ditzy marshmallows strutting around the stage in lemming-like formation (see if you can spot the ONE marshmallow in drag) this is a riot of colour and fun that will put a grin on anyone’s face.

For the Thrill-Seeker

La Soirée
November 23rd-January 29th, The Roundhouse. Tickets.

From the stars of the hugely successful La Clique, La Soirée is coming to London for a Christmas stint at The Roundhouse. For those more interested in thrills and spills of gymnastic wonder than pointe shoes and tutus, this is sure to satisfy. Voted The Evening Standard’s ‘Best Night Out’, it combines a heady mix of burlesque, cabaret, circus and contemporary variety to thrilling effect. Less festively inclined, but sure to keep you on the edge of your seat.

For the Kinkily Subversive

Christmas LipSinkers
December 1st-22nd, Bistroteque. Tickets.

A firm favourite on the cabaret circle, the LipSinkers get their teeth into some festive fun. If glorious glitter-swathed transvestites are what make you tick, then this is the Christmas show for you. Rude, lewd, and with a mean high-kick, the LipSinkers never fail to entertain. For a wickedly funny, cheekily flashy Christmas delight, the LipSinkers come up trumps.


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