The festive season is hurtling towards us proffering heaps of fun things to do, so grab a few minutes to make a plan…
THEATRE & OPERA
The RSC‘s highly anticipated brand-new Christmas musical, The Boy in the Dress, finally kicks off in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre (RST) on Fri 8 Nov. Based on David Walliams’ children’s novel, it’s a celebration of smashing stereotypes following Dennis, who’s fanatic about both football and fashion.
In the Swan, A Museum in Baghdad tells a compelling tale of two women, decades apart; Gertrude Bell is founding a museum in Iraq’s capital in 1926 and Ghalia Hussein is attempting to reopen the establishment following looting during the war. They share a goal: to create a fresh sense of unity and nationhood. But in such unstable times, questions remain. Who is the museum for? Whose culture are we preserving? And why does it matter when people are dying? You can also catch one of Shakespeare’s rarely-performed works as director Eleanor Rhode makes an “engrossing” debut in the Swan Theatre with her super stylish adaptation of King John, which “tingles with a tangible sense of spontaneity” according to The Guardian.
Birmingham Hippodrome sees the arrival of the Welsh National Opera from Tues Nov 5. Three world class shows coming up this month for our delectation – Verdi’s Rigoletto, Bizet’s Carmen and Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen.
Portraits at Warwick Arts Centre (13-15 Nov), brings together three urgent shows about identity, power, race, gender, sexuality, society, politics, and life: Queens Of Sheba (above), Pink Lemonade, and Travis Alabanza’s Burgerz (below).
Utopia, written and performed by artist/writer Amahra Spence, is the very first piece of original new theatre to be commissioned as part of award-winning Theatre Absolute’s new three-year project #Humanistan, at the Shop Front Theatre, Coventry, on Wed 6 Nov and Thur 7 Nov only. #Humanistan will include eight new commissions. It’s an ambitious series taking inspiration from the musings ‘on nation and society’ from writers Benjamin Zephaniah, Francois Matarasso and Ben Okri. Starts at 7.30pm, plus a 2pm matinee on Wed Nov 6!
On 22 Nov, the witty Birmingham-born dub poet Benjamin Zephaniah brings his Life and Rhymes to the Albany Theatre, Coventry explaining how he fought injustice and discrimination to lead a remarkable life while sharing a selection of favourite stories and poems.
Coventry’s Albany Studio shows hard-hitting At Last on Fri 29 Nov; a moving story by Proforca Theatre Company that tells of a chilling ‘what if’ scenario set in the aftermath of a decade of totalitarian right-wing regime in the UK. A dark, brutal and yet gut-wrenchingly pertinent situation to imagine. For a new take on a retro romp, look no further than the Patrick Marber’s updating of After Miss Julie, showing at the Attic Theatre, in Stratford from Tue 19 Nov-Sat 23 Nov. As election fever takes hold of the country, this play follows the 1945 Labour Party landslide victory; while her father is in London, Julie seizes the opportunity to test the limits of her freedom by joining the party in the servants’ quarters of her family’s country mansion.
The Bridge House Theatre in Warwick host Blackeyed Theatre Company’s production of Jane Eyre, in association with South Park Arts Centre, from Wed 27 Nov-Thu 28 Nov; and the talented tribe from Warwick School and King’s High School lay on Little Shop of Horrors at the Bridge from Tue 12 Nov-Sat 16 Nov.
PANTO & KIDS THEATRE
Stars of The Belgrade’s annual Christmas panto Iain Lauchlan and Craig Hollingsworth ‘cat-ch’ up at Birmingham’s Kitty Cafe ahead of this year’s show Puss in Boots, which opens on Wed 27 Nov – Sat 11 Jan 2020. But before all the festive fun begins, Tall Stories bring Julia Donaldson’s and Axel Scheffler’s award-winning picture story The Gruffalo about a monster and a mouse to the Coventry theatre 20 years after it was first published. It will be showing on Mon 11 Nov and Tue Nov 12 Nov.
With Christmas creeping up quickly upon us, Warwick Art Centre stages Raymond Briggs‘ enchanting Father Christmas (27 Nov-29 Dec) for young children- one of my favourite Christmas books as a child. This amusing adaptation, about a sarcastic Santa who moans about everything, is filled with live music, songs and playful puppetry. Watch out for secret doors and hidden hatches in a beautifully visual show.
The Birmingham REP’s big festive family favourite this year is Peter Pan, showing Sat 30 Nov-Sun 19 Jan. Director Liam Steel (acclaimed for his storming success last year with The Wizard of Oz) retells J.M. Barrie’s classic story in a 21st Century Brummie setting.
BALLET & CONTEMPORARY DANCE
Ethereal and enchanting, you can’t beat a bit of ballet at this time of year. It’s hotting up over at Birmingham Hippodrome as international ballet superstar Carlos Acosta brings his critically acclaimed Cuban company, Acosta Danza (11 & 12 Nov) to Birmingham ahead of his exciting appointment as Artistic Director of Birmingham Royal Ballet in January 202! This is followed by resident ballet company, Birmingham Royal Ballet’s timeless festive favourite The Nutcracker (22 Nov-14 Dec) set in chillier snowy climes.
Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre has a triple-bill of ballet this month, as the internationally acclaimed Russian State Ballet and Opera House return to the city after a successful run last autumn. They will be starting the Christmas season early with their own version of The Nutcracker on Thurs 14 Nov directed and choreographed by the award-winning former Bolshoi Ballet soloist Konstantin Uralsky. On Fri 15 Nov, Don Quixote will introduce a dash of Spanish passion to the programme, and finally there’ll be another opportunity to experience the ever-enchanting masterpiece, Swan Lake.
This spectacular trio of classic ballets will be accompanied by a live, 30-piece orchestra, belgrade. Having launched his acclaimed company at Warwick Arts Centre in 1994, Richard Alston Dance, founder of a leading London-based touring contemporary dance company, returns with The Final Edition (21-22 Nov) prior to bowing out in 2020. With a programme of revivals and new work, it’s going to be an exciting send off!
CHRISTMAS LIGHTS & LANTERNS
Inspired by Diwali, a new spectacular Carnival of Lights will process from Foleshill to Coventry City Centre on Sun Nov 3, including illuminated umbrellas, music, stilt-walkers, a beautiful lotus flower float and 100 lanterns. The magical sight that is the Leamington Lantern Parade takes place in the Royal Pump Room Gardens on Sun 1 Dec; and why not do the messy bit outside of your home by taking the children along to one of the free lantern-making workshops on 3, 9, 16 & 24 Nov?
As we move through the month, it’s time to drop your defences and embrace the fact that Christmas is here. Opt for a nostalgic start to the season at Warwick Victorian Christmas Evening on Thu 28 Nov, with highlights including a traditional steam-powered carousel, helter-skelter, market stalls run with traders in Victoria dress, brass band and fire spinners. The all-important lights switch-on takes place at 7pm. Over in Leamington, the annual Christmas lights party begins at 1pm on Sun 17 Nov, with an afternoon of fairground rides, live music and a carol service outside the Town Hall before the button is pressed at 5pm. Kenilworth’s High Street Christmas Lights switch on is on Nov 29 from 6.30pm with festive food and drink stalls, traditional Christmas activities and an appearance from Father Christmas.
Singer Becky Hill, who appeared on The Voice, will be will be the headline act at Rugby’s Christmas Lights Switch-On party also on Sun, 17 Nov. Stratford-Upon-Avon’s lights are flicked on Thu 21 Nov at 5pm, with carols from 4pm and a market centred around the Town Hall. Kenilworth’s High Street Christmas Lights switch on is on Nov 29 from 6.30pm with festive food and drink stalls, traditional Christmas activities and an appearance from Father Christmas.
Just across the border in Oxfordshire Blenheim (below) is also kicking off festivities this month with its annual Illuminated Light Trail – more than 100,000 for the Tunnel of Light, a Laser Garden, scented Fire Garden and light finale on the Water Terrace and front of the Palace set to music. For kids there’ll be a Victorian-style fairground and Santa (from 22 Nov).
WINTER CRAFT & FOOD FAIRS
Fancy shunning the mass-production and bagging some unique, personal gifts this year? Head to the Etsy Made Local fair on Sat 30 Nov-Sun 1 Dec in Leamington’s Royal Pump Rooms for treasures that have been handmade with love. If you like your shopping with a generous serving of grandeur, Ragley Hall’s Frost Fair is the place for you on Sun 22 Nov; carefully-selected artisan gifts are available for your browsing pleasure on the lower ground floor of the house and in heated marquees on the terrace. Choirs, roving musicians, a magician and Father Christmas set the scene for a jolly day out. To combine your craft fair browsing with beautiful outdoor scenery and history, head to the Upton House & Gardens Christmas Craft Fair on Sat 30 Nov-Sun 1 Dec.
Hatton Shopping Village, the quintessentially English Victorian shopping village just outside Warwick and home to a host of independent retailers, is running several festive events in the run up to Christmas. The popular Christmas Markets will take place on Nov 16 & 17, 23 & 24 & 30 and Dec 1, 7 & 8, 14 & 15, 21 & 22 from 10am – 5pm. On Nov 16 & 17 there will also be a festive fashion show. A Christmas Craft Fayre will take place from Nov 8 – 10, 10am – 5pm, as well as a Festive Food Fayre
Glean some celebrity chef expertise in time for the festive hosting season by heading to the BBC Good Food Show Winter on 28 Nov-1 Dec at the NEC, Birmingham. The likes of Nadiya Hussain, Mary Berry, The Hairy Bikers, Rahul Mandal and Rick Stein are amongst the impressive host of experts gracing the Big Kitchen. Then seek out your fave festive tipple and browse the plethora of artisan stalls, tasting as you go and bagging the bulk of your Christmas shopping. For a more open-air experience, Warwick’s Winter Food Festival brings over 50 stalls to Market Square on Sun 24 Nov, complete with live entertainment, reindeer and the man of the moment, Santa himself. And Gluwein and bratwurst ahoy as Birmingham’s Frankfurt Christmas market, the largest outside of Germany, sets up its stalls from Nov 7-Dec 23.
Find out How to Dress Like an Elizabethan with Jo Badger, an historic costume expert and maker, at Kenilworth Castle on Wed Nov 20. You’ll learn how to tell queen from commoner and discover how fabrics and styles helped to determine social status in the 16th century. Find out what construction techniques gave garments their shape, and see the finished article. Christmas at the Castle takes place on Sat Dec 7 & Sun Dec 8, if you wish to book ahead.
Warwick Castle welcomes you to Christmas at the Castle, complete with super exciting new addition of an ice rink, from Sat 23 Nov. Book ahead for special events such as Stories with Santa and Santa’s Stately Breakfast (beginning 30 Nov).
Upton House & Gardens are going all out for a stylish yuletide, with 1930s glam descending from Fri 29 Nov – and help make the Christmas pudding on Stir up Sunday on Sun 24 Nov, taking home a piece of the giant pud. Breakfast with Father Christmas at Charlecote Park starts on Sat Nov 30, along with Christmas house tickets. Charlecote Park also comes over all Agatha Christie with their family activity to solve the Great Charlecote Jewel Theft.
Christmas at Shakespeare’s Birthplace Trust starts this month, with a wonderful schedule including the Over The Throne After-Hours Talk on 9 Nov; and a window into Mary Arden’s preparing for Christmas on 25 & 30 Nov; and a Thanksgiving Quiz on 29 Nov. Inspired by one of Coventry’s traditional industries, weaving, This Makes that with These Family Saturday on Sat 23 Nov at the Coventry Transport Museum explores how different fabrics are used in vehicles and how fabrics were made in the past and present, giving families the chance to practice tool skills and create something to take home.
COMEDY & BOOK TOURS
On Sat 9 Nov we’re treated to a night of prime stand-up comedy when two time Edinburgh Comedy Award Nominee and star of BBC Three’s Uncle, Nick Helm, rolls into the Royal Spa Centre with his Phoenix from the Flames tour. The following weekend, Shazia Mirza brings her critically-acclaimed Coconut! To Warwick Arts Centre on Sun 17 Nov, asking questions along the lines of: Why are there no women left with real eyebrows?
Warwick Arts Centre’s comedy line-up also includes John Robbins (below, 14 Nov), Lenny Henry (17 Nov), Frank Skinner (19 Nov), and rising star Darren Harriott (above, 29 Nov).
And finally, award-winning Australian comedian, actor and Matilda composer, Tim Minchin is…Back in the UK. He’ll be at Birmingham Hippodrome, Fri Nov 15 – Sat Nov 16. Yay!
MUSIC & FESTIVALS
Superstar DJs, The Chemical Brothers will be stopping at Arena Birmingham this month on Fri Nov 29 as part of their No Geography UK tour, with their stunning visuals – if you saw their unmissable headline set at Glastonbury it’s going to be one of their finest yet!
Hotly-tipped Berkshire four-piece The Amazons are also rocking up our way on Fri Nov 8 with second album Future Dust exploring religion, social media witch hunts, eating disorders and depression. They’ll be notching up the sound at Birmingham’s O2 Academy.
Jazz fans should check out the November programme for From the Source Festival at Warwick Arts Centre, which curates a selection of artists who draw on the roots of jazz, while reinterpreting them for the postmodern age. Highlights include headliner Nitin Sawhney on Sat 9 Nov and A Change is Gonna Come – Music for Human Rights on Sun 10 Nov.
Bastille bring their third album, Doom Days, to Warwick Arts Centre on Fri 29 Nov; the Grammy-nominated, Brit-winning band throw an ‘apocalyptic party’ club night, beginning with a DJ set and narrative of the album before a performance of the whole album from start to finish, which promises ‘hope in turbulent times’. Alas, it is already sold out. If you like your folk Northumbrian pipe player Kathryn Tickell & The Darkening will be performing live at the venue on Wed Nov 13.
Liam Gallagher, swaggers into Arena Birmingham on Tues 12 Nov; while Bats for Lashes, aka Natasha Khan (above) will be performing tracks from her fifth album, the dazzling cinematic masterpiece “Lost Girls” at Town Hall, Birmingham on Thur 21 Nov. The O2 Academy also welcomes some big names this month, including Scouting for Girls bringing their brand new album The Trouble with Boys on Sat 23 Nov; Vampire Weekend with their first release in six years, Father of the Bride, on Mon 11 Nov.
The excellent Metronomy will be supported at the O2 Institute, Birmingham, on Tue Nov 16 by Squid, who amusingly coin themselves “Brighton and London’s most insatiable underwater boy band”. Dashing Dublin-based newcomers and 2019 Mercury Award nominees Fontaines DC, who are pretty amazing live, play at the same venue on Mon Nov 25.