7 Must-See Theatre Shows If You’re Feeling ‘Anti-Panto’ This Christmas

There’s a certain cheesy charm to watching C-list celebs shout ‘It’s behind you!’ in Jack and the Beanstalk or one of the other classic pantomime tales. But if you’d rather skip the water-squirting flowers and flamboyant frocks, here are 7 shows that offer a refreshingly different theatre experience this Christmas, plus top tips on where to eat and drink nearby.

Swan Lake and The Nutcracker at Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham

Royal Concert Hall is a striking modern theatre in the heart of Nottingham City Centre. Its shimmering glass exterior has made it a city landmark, while inside there’s an auditorium with world-class acoustic design.

This January, Moscow City Ballet returns to enrapture Nottingham’s residents and visitors with performances of Swan Lake and The Nutcracker.

Swan Lake is perhaps the most loved and mesmerising classical ballet, remaining popular across the world more than 100 years after Tchaikovsky created it. The timeless love story of Prince Siegfried, the swan princess Odette, and the sorcerer who comes between them will be brought to life in classic Russian style with a full orchestra.

For a more Christmasy but no less spectacular theatre experience, there’s The Nutcracker, which tells the story of a girl who befriends a nutcracker who comes to life on Christmas Eve to help her wage a battle against an evil Mouse King.

For a drink or bite to eat in a cosy spot before or after visiting Royal Concert Hall, head to Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem. This ancient pub, built into the surrounding caves and with a charming wonky interior, is England’s oldest inn and just a 10-minute walk from the theatre.

Dates: Wednesday 8 January — Sunday 12 January 2020 | Book tickets

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West Side Story, Curve Theatre, Leicester

Curve is a state-of-the-art theatre in Leicester’s Cultural Quarter, with a diverse mix of musicals, plays, dance and opera that attracts over one million people each year.

This Christmas, Curve presents the Tony Award-winning musical masterpiece West Side Story. To the delight of anyone who is strictly anti-panto, the plot has nothing to do with Christmas and is instead a modern take on Romeo and Juliet, set in New York’s West Side in 1957.

For a sampling of some of the show’s most famous songs, check out Curve’s specially created West Side Story Spotify playlist.

To continue the New York theme, take a 60-second stroll from Curve theatre to Manhattan34, a 1920s-styled bar where talented mixologists serve exquisite cocktails.

Dates: Monday 25 November 2019 — Saturday 11 January 2020 | Book tickets

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Christmas with Steptoe and Son, Winding Wheel Theatre, Chesterfield

For those with fond memories of the sitcom Steptoe and Son, Christmas isn’t complete without a visit to 23 Oil Drum Lane. This production combines several plots from classic episodes into one story, freshly adapted for the stage by the company behind the sell-out hit Just Like That! The Tommy Cooper Show.

While the pantomime madness of Jack and the Beanstalk (starring Lee from Steps) takes place at the Pomegranate Theatre around the corner, for one night only you’ll be treated to a less cheesy and more heartwarming display of Albert and Harold’s misadventures.

The Market Pub offers good grub for after the show, plus an impressive ale, whisky and wine list and is only a 5-minute walk from Winding Wheel Theatre.

Dates: Wednesday 18 December 2019 | Book tickets

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The Queen of Tarts: An Anti-Panto At The Blue Room, Lincoln

If you’d like to really rebel against the institution of pantomimes (and you’re over the age of 16), then the Queen of Tarts show could be for you. Although it’s based on Alice in Wonderland, don’t expect this intimate event to remain faithful to Lewis Carroll’s original story. It has a touch of the macabre, naughtiness to make you blush, and an interactive element that will see its bravest and best-dressed audience members become part of the show.

The Queen of Tarts will be hosted at The Blue Room, in Lincoln’s historic cathedral quarter. If you need a stiff drink before (or after) the show, try Magna Carta, a classic pub with an old English feel which is opposite the cathedral and a 5-minute walk from The Blue Room.

Dates: Friday 17 January 2020 — Saturday 18 January 2020 | Book tickets

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Little Red Riding Hood, Derby Theatre, Derby

If you aren’t in the mood for a panto, but still fancy a thoroughly festive show, Little Red Riding Hood at Derby Theatre could be an ideal choice. This production isn’t a run-of-the-mill rendition. You’ll see a brand new version of the classic story that features artful puppetry, spirited live music played by the cast themselves and a selection of original songs that’ll have you tapping your feet the whole way through.

After watching the Big Bad Wolf salivate on stage, you can get your post-show fill at Cucina on Green Lane. This top Italian restaurant is known for its authentic dishes and quirky vibe, including staff who greet guests with a smile.

Dates: Wednesday 4 December 2019 - Saturday 4 January 2020 | Book tickets

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The Elves and the Shoemakers, Studio Theatre, Sheffield

Here’s another classy Christmasy show without a water-squirting panto flower in sight. Two old shoemakers, too poor to buy each other gifts and without wood for a fire or leather to craft shoes, have their fates transformed by two mischievous elves who appear at their window as the clock strikes midnight.

This production of The Elves and the Shoemakers is a charming version of Grimms’ classic fairy tale, featuring live music and handmade wooden puppets that will light-up kids’ imaginations as they’re brought to life by the cast.

The Studio Theatre is in the same building as the Crucible Theatre, which is famous for hosting the World Snooker Championship. You’ll be right in the middle of the city, surrounded by shops, galleries and great places to eat. VeroGusto, a refined Italian restaurant, is a solid choice. It serves homemade dishes in elegant pale blue rooms and is a 60-second stroll from the theatre.

Dates: Thursday 5 December 2019 – Saturday 4 January 2020 | Book tickets

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The Santaland Diaries, Theatre Deli, Sheffield

Christmas isn’t all it’s cracked up to be for a hardworking elf. In The Santaland Diaries, we meet a down-on-his-luck actor who works at a New York department store over the holidays as Crumpet the Elf. Through a series of tales that include demanding parents and vomiting children, we’re given a cynical but hilarious look at the ‘brutality and ruthlessness of commercialism at Christmas time’. It’s a darkly funny Christmas show that most of the family will love (age recommendation: 14+).

The Santaland Diaries is scheduled for two nights this December at Theatre Deli, an experimental arts venue and creative hub that’s known for hosting brave, left field shows that might struggle to find a space in Sheffield’s shinier theatres.

To continue the quirky theme, try the Wick at Both Ends on West Street, which is a 10-minute walk from Theatre Deli. It was the first absinthe bar in Sheffield and the team puts weeks of research into each of its cocktails.

Dates: Wednesday 4 December 2019 – Thursday 5 December | Book tickets

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