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The Grinning Man

The Best Theatre in London this December

4 December 2017 Will Rathbone

It’s the final month of the year and as ever there’s a whole heap of theatre saying sayonara to 2017. From the behemoth that is Hamilton to the mysteries of The Twilight Zone, via Julian Clary in Dick Whittington and an immersive Christmas Carol, there’s nary a dull moment this December.

There’s only one place to start this month, and that’s with Hamilton. The Victoria Palace Theatre has undergone an extensive refurbishment before it hosts what is, without a doubt, the biggest import to hit the West End since The Book of Mormon. Writer Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical re-telling of the life of one of America’s Founding Fathers, Alexander Hamilton, fuses a reclaimed American history with hiphop, jazz, show tunes and blues. You won’t be able to get tickets for a while yet, but there’s no beating Hamilton, so at some point you’ll just have to join it.
Elsewhere in town, the National Theatre’s family Christmas show is always brimful of talent, and this year’s Pinocchio is no different. It’s been adapted by Dennis Kelly - best known for Matilda the Musical - and directed by John Tiffany (of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child fame), and includes new arrangements of all the well-loved Disney songs to boot. There’s more puppetry to be found at Shoreditch Town Hall, with Kneehigh’s acclaimed adaptation of the Günter Grass novel The Tin Drum. Set in Poland amidst the backdrop of an approaching WW2, a three-year-old boy swears never to grow up in this playful, terrifying and moving folk-tale.

Image credit: Scene from Pinocchio (c) Manuel Harlan.
Christmas means Pantomime, and the pick of the bunch this year is Dick Whittington at the London Palladium. The all-star cast sees Julian Clary, Nigel Havers and Gary Wilmot all return to the theatre, with musical icon Elaine Page joining the fray alongside Olivier-nominated Charlie Stemp. It’s a hell of a cast, and looks to build on last year’s big success. On a smaller-scale, Above the Stag Theatre’s now notorious adult Christmas show is a guaranteed riot, with Snow White: Rotten to the Core promising to be as outrageous as ever. Meanwhile Battersea’s Theatre 503 brings comedy trio The Sleeping Trees back for a second year with Scrooge and the Seven Dwarves, a raucous blend of fairytales that sees Santa turn to Ebenezer Scrooge for help delivering his presents.

Image credit: Julain Clary and Elaine Page
If the mere mention of Ebenezer Scrooge gets you in the mood for carols and mince pies, then an immersive production of A Christmas Carol staged in the gorgeous surrounds of Windsor Castle should be just the ticket. The show sees audiences meet Scrooge himself at the castle gates before accompanying him to the Waterloo Chamber, where Jacob Marley awaits. A perfect chance not only to immerse yourself in this classic Christmas tale, but also to explore Windsor Castle itself.
December’s not all about Christmas though, and there’s plenty of non-festive action to prove it. Fans of new musicals can rejoice, as the Old Vic’s celebrated Girl from the North Country, which fuses the songs of Bob Dylan with Conor McPherson’s tale of Depression-era Minnesota, transfers to the Noël Coward Theatre. The Trafalgar Studios play host to another West End transfer, this time from Bristol’s Old Vic, as The Grinning Man comes to town for an open-ended run. Kneehigh alumni Carl Grose has adapted Les Misérables author Victor Hugo’s classic novel about Grinpayne, a man with a mysterious, gruesome smile who journeys from fairground attraction to an audience with the Queen.

Image credit: The Grinning Man at The Trafalgar Studios
For something completely different, journey into The Twilight Zone at the Almeida Theatre. An adaptation of the cult TV series from Anne Washburn, whose play Mr. Burns was a previous Almeida success, The Twilight Zone's themes of technological and societal paranoia are more relevant than ever. Over at the Arts Theatre, the seemingly unstoppable Mischief Theatre present their latest offering, Mischief Movie Night. This improvised show sees the team behind the series of … Goes Wrong plays create a Hollywood blockbuster from audience suggestions.
Finally, a trip to the ballet, as Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella comes to Sadler’s Wells for the holiday season. It’s been twenty years since London last saw Bourne’s re-imagining of the classic fairytale, which transports Cinderella to Blitz-era London, where she and a young RAF pilot meet by chance one evening and fall in love only to be separated by the falling bombs. This is Bourne at his cinematic, imaginative, story-telling best.

Image credit: Matthew Bourne's Cinderella (c) Hugh Glendinning

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