Here are four brilliant shows we have seen over the last two years and highly recommend, some still available this year, most perennially available every Christmas - a testament to their enduring appeal.
English National Ballet's The Nutcracker
|Image Courtesy of the ENB 2015
|Nutcracker Image Courtesy of ENB
For Nutcracker-inspired activities see here.
Sadler's Wells: The Snowman
The other, less traditional, first ballet we attended with (then) a three year old Culturebaby was the gorgeous stage show of the classic Briggs' tale The Snowman, presented by Sadler's Wells and the Birmingham Repertory Theatre at the Peacock and now in its 19th year. Christmas for me, more than any other season, is the time for memories, for dreaming and re-gaining the wonder in life and little encapsulates this sensation better than this beautiful story coupled with Howard Blake's ingenious score. Pieces like this matter, they train a child's ear, stretch the imagination and instil a life-long love of music.
The production is gorgeous. It is peppered with humour (with its oversized animals, comedic household discoveries and dancing fruit) and though the set is relatively simple the props are very effective. The scene when the toys come to life in James' room is particularly lovely. The choreography is great - the dance of the Snowman is a joy to watch, there are instruments on stage and singing, a motorbike and, to the girls' delight, a 'real ballerina' complete with tutu. The entire audience burst into spontaneous applause this year as both Snowman and James took to the air on strings. Culturebaby, remembering moments from last year, waited with impatient anticipation for the arrival of the gymnastic and rather sinister Jack Frost.
For a selection of Snowman themed activities see here.
Sadler's Wells - The Little Match Girl
|Photographs Courtesy of Sadler's Wells and Phil Conrad
She really related to this story of Fiammetta, a young girl in an imaginary Italian town who is forced to sell matches in the bitter cold. The little girl is full of joy, but also experiences great cruelty at the hands of those in competition with her and wealthy families who do not want to associate themselves with the poor. When she has her shoes stolen and her matches burned, the little girl begs for help with no success. She is chased away from the warmth and to her Grandmother's grave where, burning her few remaining matches, she dies. She is discovered too late by townspeople who had rejected her. But then comes an element of hope - the spirit of her loving grandmother guides her away from the cruel earth and to the moon from where she is able to watch over the little match girls of the future. She is warm and free.
The dancing is gorgeous, the scenery (such as the glowing moon) really beautiful, and even such a tragic tale is effectively infused with comedy and lightheartedness. Though there is no English dialogue (it has a little Italian in the songs) this is surprisingly no issue. The acting speaks for itself. It was a truly refreshing experience and one which has stayed both with me and with the children. Culturebaby wants to do some fundraising at school for the homeless. If she's taken this away as a Christmas message from this brilliant production, there is little more valuable.
The Unicorn Theatre - Baddies the Musical
This Christmas we went to see the quirky Baddies the Musical, which returned to the theatre this year. It's a fun take on the fairytale world, examining what might happen if you were to extricate the baddies from their respective tales, leaving only the sunnier storylines. Inevitably we see that they are in fact required. Life is made up of contrasts: light is only understood in contrast with the dark, goodness when opposed by malevolence. We are also led to examine what are goodness and badness anyway? Intentionality matters. The cast is brilliant - the 'ugly' sisters have stunning voices and harmonics, Rumpelstiltskin in his efforts to be taken seriously is really quite adorable and Peter Pan is charmingly unpleasant. It's a fun musical adventure, but one with a deeper message and frankly I'd take this over a pantomime any day. You need the bad guys - especially when they can sing.
Disclaimer: we received tickets to the first three of these performances for the purposes of a frank review, and to the Unicorn in our role as ambassadors. All views are entirely our own.