What's On: London's best shows for the whole family this Christmas

It's almost that time of year again... eek! We all know how fast the weeks can fly by in the run up to Christmas, and how quickly the holidays can disappear, so this year I'm determined to plan ahead and get a bit of culture into the kids over the festive season! 

I've been looking at what London has to offer in terms of family-friendly theatre over Christmas and as usual, it doesn't disappoint. Take a look below at my top picks for the season... from toddlers to teens, there's something for everyone. Perfect for a special family outing, or even a Christmas present for kids who have it all!

For the Little Ones

It's never too soon to give little ones a taste of the theatre... in fact, the earlier the better! Your toddler may not be old enough to sit through a full blown two-act production, but there are plenty of stunning shows specifically aimed at their age group that will leave them mesmerised.  My favourite London theatres for kids are The Unicorn Theatre at London Bridge and The Little Angel Theatre in Islington. Both cater beautifully for fidgety little ones with short attention spans and, trust me, even the adults will be blown away by the shows they produce. Pure magic!

Boing!

Unicorn Theatre

Ages: 2 - 6

Dates: 22 Nov - 31 Dec

Running time: 50 minutes

Tickets: Under 18s: £12 - £14, adults: £12 - £20

If you want to give your kids an experience to treasure, take them to the Unicorn Theatre. I absolutely love this place. The way they cater to babies, children, teens and parents is unparalleled; from the range and quality of their shows (which are categorised very clearly by age), to the creative buzz you feel when you walk into the foyer. 

About the show:

Who can sleep on Christmas Eve?

This piece of dance-theatre captures the delirious excitement of two boys waiting for Father Christmas to arrive on the most magical night of the year. 

There are beds to be jumped on, pillows to be fought with, seas to be sailed… On this most extraordinary night, let your imagination soar right up to the stars!

Following in their tradition of bringing enchanting shows for small children to venues up and down the country, Travelling Light have created this show to get your feet tingling and your head spinning with a whirl of colourful images and playful sounds.

★★★★ ‘Utterly dazzling. Rumbustious, exhilarating dance theatre.’ The Guardian

 

Sleepy Head

Little Angel Theatre

Dates: 17 Nov - 4 Feb

Ages: Aimed at ages 2 - 5 

Running time: 45 minutes approx.

Tickets: £13 Full-price adults, £11 children (age 1 – 15) and concessions

The Little Angel Theatre has got to be one of the cutest little theatres in London, producing wonderful puppet theatre that captivates young audiences. I took my eldest to see his first show there when he was 2 and he absolutely loved it. It's the perfect introduction to theatre for pre-schoolers. If your kids like crafting, you might like to try one of their creative sessions too - take a look at their website for more info.

About the show:

"It’s been a long day for Dad and he can hardly keep his eyes open. All he wants is for Baby to go to sleep so he can catch up on a little shut-eye too. Dad’s usually got some tricks up his sleeve to help send Baby off to the Land of Nod. But tonight, Baby has other ideas… 

As soon as Dad’s out of the way, Baby gets his hands on the magic top hat, and when his friend Rabbit shows up the fun and games really begin!

Mix in some magic, a pinch of circus and a large dollop of silliness and you have the recipe for a little adventure with a lot of laughs!"

 

Snow Mouse

Barbican Centre

Dates: 13 - 23 Dec

Ages: 3 months to 3 years

Running time: 40 minutes, no interval

Tickets: £7.50 (baby/child), £8.50 (adult)

I'm a big believer in getting children interested in theatre early... so why not start when they're babies? At only 40 minutes long, and with just one performer (plus a cute little puppet!) Snow Mouse is the perfect low-key show for babies and toddlers. And not a cBeebies character in sight - bonus!

About the show:

"When you enter The Pit, it’s as though winter has arrived, with woods covered in sparkly snow. A child runs outside to discover it all but soon feels lonely. Drawn by a sound, the child finds a sleeping mouse buried under the soft white flakes. Together they explore, sliding, tumbling and laughing, keeping each other safe and warm.

Snow Mouse combines an endearing puppet, one performer, lots of giggles and a tactile set perfect for audiences to come and sit close to the action. Bath-based the egg and Bristol’s Travelling Light Theatre Company make outstanding theatre for children, engaging with their emotions and firing their imaginations."


For Big Kids (and beyond!)

From the age of about 5 or 6 onwards, kids are usually able to sit through a longer show that the whole family will enjoy. Londoners are spoilt for choice this year as we see the return of some classic greats, including Slava's Snow Show and The Snowman, along with some gorgeous-looking new productions, such as the NT's Pinocchio and A Christmas Carol starring Rhys Ifans at the Old Vic. There's something for everyone!

 

The Velveteen Rabbit

Unicorn Theatre

Dates: 17 Nov - 31 Dec

Ages: 5 to adult

Duration: 1 hr 30 mins (incl. 15 mins interval)

Tickets: Under 18s: £10 - £18, adults: £16 - £24

Again, The Unicorn is just brilliant when it comes to kids' theatre. If you're a fan of the classic children's book by Margery Williams, you won't be disappointed. This show is simply gorgeous.

About the show:

Real isn't how you are made. It's a thing that happens to you.

This beautiful adaption of a timeless classic returns to The Unicorn for a third time after a Broadway transfer. The Velveteen Rabbit is a heart-warming story about a very shy toy rabbit who longs for nothing more than to become real. He spends his days waiting patiently on the nursery floor, watching the Boy play with other toys and dreaming of being picked up and loved. And then, one day, he is rediscovered and all his hopes start to come true...

★★★★ ‘Utterly gripping...’ The Guardian

 

The Snowman

Peacock Theatre

Dates: 23 Nov - 31 dec

Ages: 'Suitable for all ages'... but I would say 5+ based on the running time, depending on how long your child is happy sitting still

Running time: 1 hr 50 mins (including one 20 min interval)

Tickets: £15, £24, £32, £36

Celebrating 20 consecutive years at The Peacock theatre, The Snowman returns for another magical run this Christmas. A beautiful show with stunning costumes and gorgeous music - catch it this year if you can!

About the show:

"Based upon the book by Raymond Briggs and the film directed by Dianne Jackson and produced by John Coates which has transported a generation of children and their families into the wintery world of a boy and his magical snowman.

With music and lyrics by Howard Blake, including Walking in the Air, design by Ruari Murchison, lighting by Tim Mitchell, virtuoso choreography by Robert North and direction by Bill AlexanderThe Snowman is a magical mix of exquisite dancing, storytelling, splendid sets and music performed by a live orchestra."

'The best kids show for Christmas by far', THE INDEPENDENT

 

Slava's Snow Show

Royal Festival Hall

Dates: 18 Dec - 4 Jan

Ages: Recommended for ages 8+. Children under 3 are strictly not permitted.

Duration: Approx. 90 mins

Tickets: £20 - £105

I'm yet to see Slava's Snow Show, but I'll be booking as soon as my two are old enough because, from what I hear, it's an experience you're not likely to forget!

About the show:

"Experience a joyous dream world that touches both your heart and funny bone, culminating in a breath-taking blizzard that leaves you literally knee deep in snow.

The multi-award-winning international sensation is back due to popular demand for Christmas 2017, having delighted audiences in over 80 cities globally including New York, Los Angeles, Paris, Rome, Hong Kong, Rio de Janeiro and Moscow."

★★★★★ 'Breathtakingly rich, full of laughter... there is nothing quite like it, the audience were literally screaming with delight.' THE SUNDAY TIMES

 

Pinocchio

National Theatre

Dates: 1 Dec - 7 Apr

Ages: For brave 8-year-olds and above.

Running time: tbc

Tickets: £15 - £62. Half-price tickets for under-18s for all performances (excludes tickets under £30).

This new show at the National looks set to be a cracker. Who doesn't love the Disney classic Pinocchio?! What a treat to see it brought to life on stage by the director of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and the writer of Matilda the Musical. The story is a little hair-raising in parts if you remember, which must be why only 'brave' 8-year-olds and above need apply!

About the show:

"On a quest to be truly alive, Pinocchio leaves Geppetto’s workshop with Jiminy Cricket in tow. Their electrifying adventure takes them from alpine forests to Pleasure Island to the bottom of the ocean.

Featuring unforgettable music and songs from the Walt Disney film including I’ve Got No Strings, Give a Little Whistle and When You Wish upon a Star in dazzling new arrangements, Pinocchio comes to life as never before."

 

Nutcracker

english national ballet at the London Coliseum

Dates: 13 Dec - 6 Jan

Ages: 5+

Note that children under 5 are not allowed in the auditorium, except for the 2.30pm matinee on Saturday 6 January, which is a family-friendly performance with no minimum age restriction.

Running Time: 2 hrs 15 mins

Tickets:  £14 – £79

Nutcracker is the perfect first full-length ballet for children - it's so magical they're sure to love it, especially if they are already interested in ballet. To prepare younger ones, be sure to tell them the story beforehand and download the soundtrack to play in the car so that they are familiar with the music. It's a long show for little ones, so I'd only take kids who are happy sitting through a full movie without too much fidgeting.

About the show:

"Over 100 dancers and musicians bring Nutcracker to life with exquisite dancing, beautiful sets and Tchaikovsky’s glorious score played live.

On a sparkling Christmas Eve in a frost-dusted Edwardian London, Clara and her enchanted Nutcracker doll discover a magical world, where she battles with the Mouse King and meets a handsome stranger. As the air grows colder, Clara and her valiant Nutcracker take a hot air balloon ride across London to the glistening Land of Snow where her adventure really begins."

 

A CHRISTMAS CAROL

THE OLD VIC

Dates: 18 Nov - 20 Jan

Ages: Recommended for ages 11+. Contains haunting supernatural themes and some content which younger audiences may find upsetting.

Running time: tbc

Tickets: £12 - £65

My kids are a little too young for this sadly... so I might have to go without them! Adapted for the stage by Jack Thorne, writer of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, (which is utterly brilliant, just saying!) it stars none other than the inimitable Rhys Ifans as Scrooge.

About the show:

"Matthew Warchus directs Charles Dickens’ timeless classic A Christmas Carol in a joyous new adaptation by Jack Thorne.

On a bitter Christmas Eve night a cold-hearted miser is visited by four ghosts. Transported to worlds past, present and future, Ebenezer Scrooge witnesses what a lifetime of fear and selfishness has led to and sees with fresh eyes the lonely life he has built for himself. Can Ebenezer be saved before it’s too late?

An uplifting story for families aged 11+, this essential festive treat is vividly brought to the stage in a big-hearted production full of music and cheer."

 

If you decide to book any of these shows, I'd love to know what you think! I'd be booking them all if I could... if only!

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