Oh no it isn’t 

There’s more to Christmas shows than panto. Antonia Charlesworth rounds up the best family-friendly alternatives across the North

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There’s nothing more warming on a cold night than a good singsong and theatres across the North this Christmas are offering more than traditional carols.

Irving Berlin’s timeless romantic comedy White Christmas (6-31 Dec, Empire Theatre) arrives in Liverpool direct from the West End. Veterans Bob Wallace (Jay McGuiness) and Phil Davis (Dan Burton) follow the Haynes Sisters, Betty and Judy (Jessica Daley, Monique Young), to a Vermont lodge overseen by housekeeper Martha Watson (Lorna Luft) for a special Christmas show. Their journey takes a mis-step when they discover the lodge happens to be owned by Bob and Phil’s old army general (Michael Starke), who is in desperate need of their help. With flawless choreography and familiar songs, it’s quintessential Christmas packaged up in a family show.

Modern cinema has also inspired a musical adaptation. Elf the Musical (Blackpool Opera House, 15-26 Dec) is based on the hilarious Will Farrell family movie that follows Buddy, raised as an elf in the North Pole but unaware he’s actually human. His enormous size and poor toy-making abilities cause him to face the truth and head to New York City to discover his true identity. This festive treat features a flying sleigh, 20-foot high growing candy canes and aerial stunts.

In Salford, Claus the Musical (14 Dec-8 Jan, The Lowry) is based on children’s book The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus by L Frank Baum. A baby is abandoned in the magical Forest of Burzee and gifted to Necile, a wood nymph, who showers him with love and names him Claus. With a helping hand from the mystical inhabitants of the forest – Fairies, Knooks and Ryls – she teaches him that kindness is the most important lesson, a gift that Claus eventually shares with us all, as he embarks on a journey to bring the miracle of Christmas to the whole world. Featuring spellbinding songs, heart-warming storytelling, enchanting sets and a whole load of festive fun.

Also adapted from a favourite children’s book but imported from the West End and Broadway is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – the Musical. Featuring memorable songs from the 1970s film as well as new tastebud-tickling toe-tappers, the story follows Charlie Bucket as he takes his once in a lifetime trip into Willy Wonka’s sweet paradise.

No one evokes Christmas better than Dickens and three theatres across the region pay homage to his timeless classic A Christmas Carol this year, each with their own interpretation. In Bolton, it’s a musical, adapted by Kate Ferguson and Susannah Pearse, while in East Yorkshire there’s a contemporary adaptation by Deborah McAndrew, rounding up the 50th anniversary celebrations of Hull Truck Theatre (until 31 Dec) with an original score, fantastic special effects and an atmospheric set. The region’s newest theatre, meanwhile, Shakespeare North Playhouse, gives the Dickensian ghost story a distinctly Knowsley feel (until 7 Jan). The result promises to be a slightly bonkers, fast and furious retelling of the original text with a host of musical instruments, some familiar local references and a sprinkling of pantomime fun.

If ghosts or two hour musicals sound too scary a prospect for families with young children, two shows for very young children are coming to South Yorkshire this Christmas. Me… (14-31 Dec, Cast in Doncaster) follows a tiny penguin as she finds her feet in a big world. A Little Angel Theatre production based on the book by Emma Dodd, it’s an early-years favourite and a touching story about a parent’s love for their child.

Above: Jack Frost. Main image: The cast of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory The Musical. (Brian Slater/Johan Persson)

Jack Frost and The Search for Winter (13-31 Dec, Sheffield Playhouse) is about a mischievous young boy with a frozen touch but this year when winter comes around the snow begins to melt and along with it Jack’s extraordinary magic fades. With his powers lost he becomes just an ordinary boy. With a newfound friend, Jack searches for winter in an attempt to restore his special gift.

The Theatre by the Lake in Keswick presents Mary Norton’s The Borrowers (until 14 Jan) in a show full of acrobatic feats, magical storytelling and original music. The theatre is transformed into the below-the-floorboards miniature world of young Arrietty and her family, who make use of anything they can find upstairs in the large old house, but which they retrieve with great caution. Arrietty refuses to be boxed in by her family’s fear of the big world beyond the floorboards but when she decides to go exploring, she comes across the dreaded Human Beans and nothing will ever be the same again.

Hans Christian Anderson fairytales are the source of inspiration for theatre makers in Chester and Scarborough. The Storyhouse presents a funny and joyous adaptation of The Snow Queen (until 15 Jan). Audiences head to the mystical, frozen north where Gerda travels through the seasons to save her best friend Cei from the icy clutches of the feared queen, meeting pouting princes and tap-dancing reindeers along the way. And the Stephen Joseph Theatre returns to Cinderella, but turns the tale on its head with the help of a trainee fairy with a wonky wand. Audiences should expect a night of songs, silliness and festive fun by the carriage load.

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