Bea Roberts is a smart writer with an offbeat sensibility: she once wrote a version of Madame Bovary set in a plumbing supply company. So her collaboration with Pins and Needles should strip the familiar story of all Disneyfication. Particularly as this little Mermaid surfaces at a yacht party in Torbay in the 1980s. Expect glitter balls, 80s hits and plenty of bubbling wit.
7 December-14 January 2018 at Egg, Bath.
Deerstalkers at the ready for this Sherlock Holmes makeover inspired by Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic story of a cursed family. Very much in the virtuoso comic-serious style of that big West End smash The 39 Steps, this adaptation is by Ken Ludwig, best known for the hit Lend Me a Tenor. Five actors will play more than 40 characters, as our sleuth and the faithful Dr Watson try to get to the bottom of the beastly goings on on the misty moor.
9 December-13 January at Liverpool Playhouse.
The New Vic’s Theresa Heskins is queen of the festive adaptation, with a string of hits behind her, as well as a version of Around the World in 80 Days that is enjoying a successful tour. She has a knack for taking classic novels and giving them a contemporary twist using “poor theatre” techniques. This inventively staged epic adventure, with live music and puppetry, has a female heroine, Gem.
To 27 January at New Vic, Newcastle under Lyme.
The Wizard of Oz
Dorothy has made many trips along the Yellow Brick Road in recent years, but Robert Hastie and his team at Sheffield are bringing back the RSC version, which is based closely on the original movie script. The trick is not to produce a facsimile of the film but a show of such theatrical verve that it propels everyone to the end of the rainbow. Hastie, who has proved himself with the recent shows Of Kith and Kin and Julius Caesar, should deliver.
8 December-20 January at the Crucible, Sheffield.
Guys and Dolls
One of the greatest musicals of all time is relocated to Harlem for a co-production with Talawa, directed by Michael Buffong, featuring an all-black cast and choreography from Boy Blue Entertainment’s Kenrick Sandy. The Exchange has really rocked the boat this year with some radical choices and this one – featuring a musical mix of bebop, gospel and swing – shouldn’t need any lady luck to be a hit.
2 December-27 January at Royal Exchange, Manchester.
Dennis Kelly did a brilliant job adapting Matilda for the stage, so hopes are high for this new show about the carved wooden puppet who wants to be a real boy. The production features songs from the Disney film but is likely to be a more subtle examination of what it means to be human. With direction from John Tiffany, whose Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is likely to run to the end of time, this is probably Christmas’s most anticipated show. With Bob Crowley designing, it’s unlikely to be wooden, but the NT are warning it could be too scary for the under-eights.
To 7 April at National Theatre
Snow White and Rose Red
Rashdash, a female-led company who describe themselves as “furious and radical and hopeful”, turn their attention to the fairytale in a show that will feature live music and a bear, and where the heroines’ housework skills will take second place to adventure.
To 30 December at Battersea Arts Centre, London.
The Little Matchgirl and Other Happier Tales
Gloriously staged in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse last year, Joel Horwood and Emma Rice’s collaboration takes the saccharine stuff out of Hans Christian Andersen but leaves the beating heart. Framed as if performed by a dusty travelling Edwardian theatre troupe, this is a show full of magic and enchantment but it also offers contemporary references in its casting of Thumbelina as a war refugee.
To 14 January at Bristol Old Vic.
The Wind in the Willows
Mole, Ratty, Badger and Toad take to the stage in Mike Kenny’s version of Kenneth Grahame’s riverbank story. In the wrong hands it can become swamped by nostalgic pre-first world war innocence. But Kenny is the smartest of writers and this should be another hit for the Sherman, which has had a trailblazing year.
To 30 December at Sherman, Cardiff.
Jack and the Beanstalk
Yes, it’s the annual feast of silly festive fun from a theatre whose panto is in such demand that it runs into February. Berwick Kaler is one of the nation’s longest-serving dames and is returning for his 39th pantomime at York. He will be full of beans in a show that throws everything at the stage and doesn’t spare on the sparkle.
14 December-3 February at Theatre Royal, York.
A Christmas Carol
Rhys Ifans is the miserly Scrooge in Jack Thorne’s new version of Dickens’s redemptive story. Director Matthew Warchus should ensure that the ghosts are spooky and that frozen hearts thaw as the grasping businessman discovers that he is the poorest one of all.
To 20 January at Old Vic, London.
Julian Clary returns after last year’s filthy panto at the Palladium, and this new show is so stuffed full of stars – including Elaine Paige, Nigel Havers and Gary Wilmot – that it can’t afford to be a turkey. Expect a slick, lavish affair. Although it can’t have the heart of local pantos, it’s likely to be a memorable spectacle.
9 December-14 January at the London Palladium.
Beauty and the Beast
First seen at Cambridge Junction last year, NIE’s funny and subtle retelling of the beastly tale should flourish and grow richer on its move to Bristol. Just as all is not quite what it seems in the tale itself, this is a show of deceptive simplicity that disguises its sophisticated stagecraft and is full of moments of unexpected beauty. An off-kilter charmer.
To 14 January 2018 at Tobacco Factory, Bristol.
A Christmas Carol
David Edgar is a man who knows his Dickens: he was behind the RSC’s legendary adaptation of Nicholas Nickleby into a two-part epic in 1980. Now he tackles the festive tale of redemption, featuring a host of memorable characters, including Phil Davis as Scrooge.
To 4 February at Royal Shakespeare theatre, Stratford upon Avon
Director Suhayla El-Bushra takes us into the bazaar in old Baghdad and places the female storyteller Scheherazade centre stage as she attempts to catch the murderous sultan in her fantastical web of stories, featuring a chess-playing monkey, a wily servant girl and magic genies.
To 6 January at Lyceum, Edinburgh.
La Petite Soirée
The sexy alternative cabaret La Soirée has been providing classy adult entertainment over Christmas for years. Now they’re back, and are also treating the kids to their own variety-inspired show – only in the afternoons and minus the sauce. This should be smart stuff for the over-fives, with hula-hooping, aerial acts, acrobatics and more. It may take place long before the cocktail hour, but should provide a taste of sophistication.
To 3 February at Aldwych, London WC2.
The Jungle Book
Director Max Webster did a terrific job on Dr Seuss’s The Lorax at the Old Vic and writer Jessica Swale has had a string of respected hits including Nell Gwynn. So the jungle should be teeming with theatrical life in this new version of the Rudyard Kipling story.
To 31 December at Royal and Derngate, Northampton.
Alice in Wonderland
Lewis Carroll’s classic children’s story loses its Victorian trappings – but hopefully none of its surreal magic – in a new staging. Northern Stage always do a good Christmas show, so nobody is likely to be shouting “off with his head” at director Mark Calvert.
To 6 January at Northern Stage, Newcastle.
Theatre meets comedy and music in this show starring Jonny Donahoe and Paddy Gervers (also known as the duo Jonny and the Baptists) and the standup Rachel Parris. It’s about siblings who haven’t felt festive since the last time they saw their dad on Christmas Eve, 17 years ago.
4 to 23 December at New Diorama, London.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
CS Lewis’s Narnia tale has proved tricky to adapt for the stage, but if anyone can crack it, Sally Cookson can. She has already proved herself mistress of the impossible with acclaimed versions of classic stories, including Jane Eyre. Rae Smith’s designs will capture a world where it’s always winter but Christmas never comes.
To 21 January at West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds.