Festive theatre in Yorkshire

If you don't fancy panto, there are plenty of other festive shows in the region. Theatre correspondent Nick Ahad takes a look.

Christmas cheer: Alice in Wonderland at the Stephen Joseph Theatre. (Tony Bartholomew).
Christmas cheer: Alice in Wonderland at the Stephen Joseph Theatre. (Tony Bartholomew).

It’s all about pantomime at this time of year, I know that and it can’t be stated often enough that we have some genuinely wonderful pantomime shows in our region.

However. There are some other shows happening that don’t involve bloomers and lead boys, I’ve been scouring the region and come up with other live theatre shows that are worth your time. Some of the shows I have already covered in these pages, but if they crop up again, consider the reminder an early gift from me.

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In fact, let’s start with one of those I have mentioned already. Kiss Me Kate at the Sheffield Crucible. All theatres focus a large part of their work at this most wonderful time of the year and it’s been fascinating watching successive artistic directors of this exceptional venue bring a different focus to the shows they choose to stage. Oliver! was a highlight of the past decade while Daniel Evans was running the theatre and Robert Hastie has brought glitz to his musical Christmas productions. This year’s Kiss Me Kate is an impressive piece of work that while not particularly festive, will send audiences into the cold nights with a warm glow.

The West Yorkshire Playhouse had some misses and some hits with its own Christmas fare. The Leeds Playhouse, though, can boast a 100 per cent success rate. The Leeds theatre has been called that (the second time around – it was ‘Leeds Playhouse’ originally of course) for a few months now and their Christmas show is A Christmas Carol. A dark and atmospheric musical offering, it is filled with wonderful performances by the theatre’s rep company and while the temporary pop up theatre is rough and ready, it adds to the charm of this wonderfully Dickensian production.

Speaking of the man who invented Christmas, Charles Dickens (I know he didn’t, but he did as much to popularise the holiday as Trump has the idea that the well-qualified ought to be our political leaders) is taking a hold in the east and the west of the county this Christmas. With A Christmas Carol in Leeds, adapted by the wonderful Deborah McAndrew, there is another Dickens out east with Oliver Twist at Hull Truck Theatre, also adapted by McAndrew.

While the story of the boy in the workhouse might not seem the most obvious choice of story to tell at this time of year, McAndrew reflects contemporary society with a typically smart adaptation and the carols will put you right in the festive mood.

A writer I have always liked and admired, who has quietly been creating a very impressive body 
of work, is Nick Lane who has forged a solid reputation as an adapter 
and creator of original stories on stage for children. He is a great choice of adapter for Alice in Wonderland, the Christmas offering at Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough. Lane has taken a contemporary Alice to Boyes, a well known Scarborough department store, where she falls back into a Wonderland where things get “curiouser and curiouser”.

One of the reasons for writing this little round up of what is going on the region is that we live in an increasingly fractured world. Community seems to mean and matter less and less and those precious few opportunities we have to come together and experience something alongside strangers should be grabbed. Yes, the season can be overwhelming and it’s entirely possible to argue that perhaps the true spirit of Christmas has disappeared into an ever-expanding shopping list. For a few hours, though, we can come together with family and strangers and have a shared experience. It’s valuable.

Leeds Grand Theatre is hosting Shrek the Musical over the Christmas period, providing a lesson about accepting people for who they are and not judging them. A proper crowd-pleasing big, bold show it has seriously high production values and might well make a perfect early Christmas present for you and your loved ones. It also features brilliant original songs and, like the film, has enough nudge and wink to appeal to adults as well as children.

You often hear, particularly at this time of year, how one of the wonderful things about theatres at Christmas is the arrival of pantomimes and the fact that often panto is a child’s first introduction to the artform. It’s true, I’m pretty sure it was for me. However, I would respectfully point those of you with children also towards something that is slightly more ‘pure’ theatre than pantomime. The Elves and the Shoemakers, aimed at children from three years old, is at York Theatre Royal. Adapter Mike Kenny writes brilliant plays for young people, so he knows what he’s doing. Sheffield’s Studio is presenting The Singing Mermaid. a diverting, musical hour for the little ones.

The pick of plays for all the family

The Singing Mermaid, based on the Julia Donaldson book. Sheffield Studio, to December 30. Tickets 0114 2496000.

The Elves and the Shoemakers, York Theatre Royal Studio, to January 5. The classic fairytale is directed by Juliet Forster and adapted by Mike Kenny. Tickets 01904 623568.

Alice in Wonderland, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, to December 30. Tickets 01723 370541.

The Wizard of Oz, at Bradford Playhouse, until December 30. Tickets 01274 800415.

Shrek The Musical, Leeds Grand Theatre, to January 6. Tickets 0844 8482700.