‘Tis most certainly the season to settle back and enjoy the drama, from the uplifting and nostalgic to the downright silly.
The Royal Shakespeare Theatre was a-buzz with stars attending the glitzy opening night of The Boy in the Dress last week including its creator David Walliams, Robbie Williams and Guy Chambers who’ve composed the score; RSC Artistic Director Gregory Doran and former RSC writer-in-residence Mark Ravenhill who adapted the book. VIP guests on the green carpet included Natalie Imbruglia, Cerys Matthews, David Baddiel, David Bradley, Alan Carr, Taron Egerton, Ray Fearon, Robbie’s wife Ayda Field, and Dawn Harper.
The Company were joined on stage by Robbie Williams, David Walliams and Guy Chambers for a special reprise of Disco Symphony one of the catchy songs written by the pop star and his song-writing partner for the production. In The Swan there’s Hannah Khalil’s highly “ambitious” new play A Museum of Baghdad, until Sat 25 Jan
Directed by Erica Whyman, it tells the story of British archaeologist Gertrude Bell’s attempt to reopen a museum in 2006 following the Iraq war, following its founding in 1926 when the country was in its infancy; and also King John, on until March 21 2020, a stylish and gender stereotype-smashing adaptation starring Rosie Sheehy as the King.
Festival of Lost & Found in Shakespeare’s New Place, Stratford-upon-Avon, Wed 11 Dec-Sun 15 Dec
Catch the chance to see the greatest show that never happened! 250 years after heavy rain and floods washed out David Garrick’s legendary Shakespeare pageant in Stratford, Coventry’s Talking Birds lay on an immersive, festive theatrical experience for all the family, held in the garden of Shakespeare’s last home – whatever the weather.
Birmingham Royal Ballet’s The Nutcracker, Birmingham Hippodrome, until Sat 14 Dec
Just over two weeks to catch classic and captivating The Nutcracker, performed by Birmingham Royal Ballet’s elite dancers. Book online
Club 2B, Belgrade Theatre, Coventry,Wed 11 Dec – Fri Dec 31
At the other end of the age scale, over 18’s can dress up, drink and dine simultaneously while enjoying a brand new immersive theatrical party devised by Corey Campbell’s Strictly Arts – he’s also one of the theatre’s new City of Culture 2021 creative leads. The idea came from theatrical club nights the theatre company were commission to devise in between tours at clubs across the UK from Manchester to Bristol. This Secret Cinema style festive experience will take you on a trip through time on cabaret-style tables. You’ll have the freedom to get up and explore the room as the performance unfolds, complete with food, drink, live music and gaming tables. Wear your finest threads from your favourite era and let your hair down!
The Loft Theatre in Leamington present Merrily We Roll Along from Wed 4 Dec-Sat 14 Dec – a Sondheim production that’s received both an Olivier Award and a cult following. Director James Suckling and Musical Director Liam Walker take us on a journey both heartbreaking and funny, telling the story of a film producer who pays the high price of Hollywood success.
CHRISTMAS AT NATIONAL TRUST, SHAKESPEARE’S HISTORIC HOMES & CASTLES
As part of the splendid festive programme at Shakespeare’s family homes, the Bard’s birthplace will be brought to beautiful life with Flowers of Winter from Sat 14 Dec. This glorious installation of traditional blooms, by local florists from March Hare Floral Design and Tukshop Flowers, demonstrates the tradition of laying flowers to symbolise the downing of tools and the beginning of celebrations. Christmas at Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, Shottery, Every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Dec 6-29
Who will host Christmas this year – that age-old dilemma? Meet Anne Hathaway and her brother Bartholomew who return to the Cottage in a living history performance to discuss who will host the family Christmas this year. Will it be a traditional cottage Christmas in the country, or fancy festivities at Anne and William’s grand abode at New Place? Help them decide, and if you’re lucky, they might invite you to try taste some traditional Tudor fayre, running 12-4pm (included in admission). A Christmas Sing-a-Long, Shakespeare’s New Place, Chapel Street, Stratford-upon-Avon, Dec 21 & 24.
Bring the family for a special Makaton Christmas nursery sing-a-long and festive storytelling for young children at 11am. Enjoy a specially-created Makaton Christmas trail around the site of Shakespeare’s New Place, the site of Shakespeare’s final home. Come dressed in your best Christmas outfit.
Warwick Castle’s Christmas at the Castle features special events such as Stories with Santa and Santa’s Stately Breakfast. It’s also Christmas at the Castle in Kenilworth Castle from Sat 7 Dec-Sun 8 Dec. Father Christmas is on hand to receive hand-delivered Christmas wish lists and there’ll be toy making, storytelling, festive falconry, jesters and more.
Our local National Trust properties have some great displays and events this month. Enjoy Christmas stories and carols from Birmingham Crescent Theatre, plus mince pies and roaring fires at Coughton Court’s Christmas Wassail on Sat 7 Dec & Sun 8 Dec. While many of the traditional Christmas wreath workshops are fully booked, there are still a few tickets left for Christmas decoration making at Upton House & Gardens with pottery artist Penny Varley on Thu 6 Dec. Charlecote Park also comes over all Agatha Christie with their family activity to solve the Great Charlecote Jewel Theft and the house dressed up for a roaring 1920s party from Dec 26 – Jan 5.
Already straining your neck to see what lies beyond the chaos of Christmas? Don’t blame you. Look forward to Come A-Wassailing at Shakespeare’s Birthplace from Mon 30 Dec-Wed 1 Jan, to gear up for the new year in a 16th Century fashion.
Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, Oxon
Just over the Warks border in Oxfordshire, Blenheim always goes the whole hog with its Illuminated Light Trail and this year there’ll be over 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, plus the Palace will be decorated in the theme of Alice in Wonderland.
Warwick Castle, until Jan 5 2020
Step into Christmas at the Castle, complete with super exciting new addition of an ice rink. Put your skates on for a 45-minute session against a stunning backdrop in front of the castle’s iconic East Front, and there’s hot food and drink vendors for afterwards too. Book ahead for special events such as Stories with Santa and Santa’s Stately Breakfast. You can also enter our Readers Treat giveaway for a family ticket to the castle here (ends Dec 18)
Christmas 2019 will see the return of the popular outdoor ice rink and big wheel to Centenary Square from 10am to 10pm until Jan 12 2020, you can also check out Britain’s biggest German Christmas Market in the city.
As well as the spectacular rinks at Hampton Court, Somerset House and the Natural History Museum, London has a new ice rink at London City Island, near Canning Town, open Dec 12-22 as well as Christmas market, craft workshops and festive wine tastings.
A 30-metre ice slide and under cover ice rink feature on the city’s waterfront @Pierhead as part of its Ice Festival.
Check out the Eden Project which has an indoor ice rink in one of its biomes until Feb 23. A Festival of Christmas, until Dec 30, includes a spectacular Avenue of Lights, Luke Jerram’s Gaia Earth sculpture, and a cast of 21 Cornish musicians playing festive tunes.
FATHER CHRISTMAS & GROTTOS
Meet Father Christmas, Hall’s Croft, Old Town, Stratford-upon-Avon, Dec 7 & 8; 14 & 15 Dec
Father Christmas and Mrs Christmas will be stopping by Hall’s Croft to meet with little boys and girls and hear about their Christmas wishes. Each child will receive a charming gift with their name on it. The festive experience continues in the cafe where children can decorate their very own Christmas biscuits to take home, or enjoy there and then. A BSL interpreter will accompany Father Christmas on Saturday, 11am – 4pm (BSL-interpreted sessions on 14 December, 11am – 2pm). Tickets, £10 per child (timed entry, advance booking advisable) available here
HERITAGE: Christmas at the Castle, Kenilworth Castle, Sat 7 Dec-Sun 8 Dec
Father Christmas is on hand to receive hand-delivered Christmas wish lists and there’ll be toy making, storytelling, festive falconry, jesters and more.
Check out the full timetable of events here.
Vintage Sleigh Ride and Winter Wonderland, Coventry Transport Museum (including SEN sessions), Mon Dec 6 – Mon Dec 23
This week sees the opening of Coventry’s Vintage Sleigh Ride and new winter wonderland, walk-through experience where families can play games, take photos and meet Santa. The ride – which has been a famous festive feature in Coventry since its days in the former Co-Op store – has been run from the museum in recent years. SEN sessions are offered for children where the space will be adapted with a low sensory offer. To book a SEN session, call 024 7623 7523.
Tickets £8 per child which includes a gift from Santa,
Hatton Adventure World’s Enchanted Christmas Kingdom, Sun 22 Dec, plus two extra days on Mon 23 & Tue 24 Dec.
Hatton is in full swing every weekend until Sun 22 Dec, plus two extra days on Mon 23 & Tue 24 Dec. This year, the twinkling grotto is bigger and better than ever, where children receive a Golden Key to unlock St. Nick’s magical workshop and choose a present of their choice. There are also several new activities including interactive singalong show Reindeer Flying School and the Christmas Magician Show.
Bletchley Park’s magical vintage grotto, Bletchley Park, until Dec 23
Father Christmas has found time to take up residence again at Bletchley Park’s Vintage 1940’s Grotto – the former top-secret home of Britain’s World War Two Codebreakers. Last year tickets sold out fast and look like doing the same this year! Times: 10am to 15.30. Tickets cost just £7.50 and entrance to the park is free for the under-12, chcekc for availability here
Breakfast with Santa at The Farm, Stratford, Fri 20 Dec
As anticipation for the big day starts to reach breaking point, there’ll be storytelling, Christmas elves, letters to the North Pole, early presents, singalongs and a mini staple breakfast in gorgeous rustic café Nourish.
Alcester’s St Nicholas Night, Thu 6 Dec
Features a parade of classic and rally vehicles, children’s rides, Santa’s grotto, shopping and more.
CINEMATIC FESTIVE TREATS:
Fargo Village’s Winter Screens, Coventry, Dec 11 – 15
Catch a few Christmas classics on the big screen starting with Miracle on 34th Street on Wed Dec 11 during the afternoon, then swoon-fest Love Actually in the evening; followed by other timeless faves during the week including It’s a Wonderful Life, Elf, The Muppet Christmas Carol and Home Alone. See Fargo’s full festive what’s on programme here.
GOOD FOR LIT (AND TIMOTHEE CHAMOLET) FANS:
Little Women, out in cinemas Dec 26
Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Laura Dern and Call Me By Your Name star Timothée Chalamet star in Ladybird director Greta Gerwig’s remake of Louisa M Alcott’s novel. Chalamet is set to make his London stage debut at the Old Vic in Amy Herzog’s Pulitzer prize-nominated 10,000 next spring.
GOOD FOR WHAM! FANS:
Last Christmas, out now
Yep this London-based rom-com with GOT’s Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding, of Crazy, Rich Asians, may be cheesy, cliched and clunky – but it’s defied the critics to become a box office hit.
Bombshell, Dec 20
Charlize Theron, Margot Robbie and Nicole Kidman star in one of the season’s most anticipated real-life dramas, about Fox News mogul Roger Ailes, played by John Lithgow, who was brought down by allegations of sexual harassment. It opened in LA back in October to Oscar buzz.
Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, now on Netflix
It’s more than three hours long but this gangster epic is an unmissable watch for Scorsese fans with age-defying screen gimmicks.
TWEENS & TEENS: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
Daisy Ridley’s journey as Rey continues in this long-running Skywalker sci-fi saga.
GOOD FOR YOUNGER VIEWERS:
Cult viewing for under eights, understandably – and students with this long-awaited sequel! Box office gold..
Spies in Disguise, in cinemas on Boxing Day
A new take on The Odd Couple with Will Smith voicing the character of super spy Lance Sterling and Tom Holland as scientist Walter Beckett, who acts as a sort of Q to his Bond, creating the awesome gadgets. But there’s a slight problem when Lance turns Walter into a pigeon – spoiler alert!
Happy Mondays, O2 Institute. Birmingham, Sat Dec 14
The legendary ‘Madchester’ 80s band will be performing all their big hitters on this huge Greatest Hits headline tour.
Ronnie Spector & the Ronettes’ Best Christmas Party Ever! Warwick Arts Centre, Tue 17 Dec
Seasonal musical treats at Warwick Arts Centre include legendary 1960’s singer Ronnie Spector who’ll be singing belter hits including Be My Baby, Baby I Love You, Walking In The Rain, and Do I Love You; cult gems from her back catalogue, and lots of Ronnie’s inimitable off-the-cuff musings and anecdotes from childhood Christmases in New York City. Musician and raconteur Rick Wakeman’s The Grumpy Old Christmas Show, on 21 Dec combines spellbinding piano music with stories and insights into his lengthy and varied career, which included working with David Bowie.
The Libertines, O2 Academy Birmingham, Sat 14 Dec
Putting the finishing touches to their fourth studio album The Libertines embark on a Christmas jaunt across the UK, marking their first headline tour in over two years. On Sat 21 December Midlands indie band The Wonder Stuff, will be performing their legendary 1988 and 1989 albums, The Eight Legged Groove Machine and HUP in full to celebrate its 30th anniversary and also showcasing tracks from upcoming album Better Being Lucky. Doesn’t that make you feel ancient!
Yule Love Music, Coventry city centre, weekends of 6-8 Dec and 20-22 Dec
Soak up the wintery festival atmosphere, with live performances from singers, bands, dancers and DJ sets. Special guest artist Jane Claudio (Nightbirde) has travelled all the way from country musical capital of the world Nashville.
Bollywood comes to Fizzy Moon Brewhouse NYE, Leamington Spa, Dec 31
Celebrate New Year’s Eve Bollywood-style at this lively and fun Muddy Award-winning bar. Check out the full Christmas and NY live music itinerary here.
There are only a couple of weeks left to catch excellent critically-acclaimed photographyt exhibition Magnum Manifesto at Compton Verney (the only UK venue for the tour). This phenomenal display charts the world through the lens of some of the most iconic and influential photographers of the past 50 years and leaves Warwickshire on Sun 15 Dec.
A new exhibition opens at Leamington Spa Art Gallery and Museum on Fri Dec 13, Cornelia Parker: One Day This Glass Will Break featuring the 1997 Turner Prize shortlisted artist’s photogravure etchings; Santa’s Grotto with kids art activities on Dec 14 at 1pm, Craft Club on Sun Dec 15, 1.30-3.30pm, and Art Cart on Dec 28.
A festive line-up of exhibitions and events at Rugby Art Gallery and Museum includes drop-in activities for kids in the Christmas holidays (the Stickman storytelling session followed by a crafty workshop using sticks on Jan 4 sounds fun), Rugby Open and a Warwickshire ETSY Makers’ Market on Sat 14 Dec.
A Brief History of Christmas, The Herbert Art Gallery and Museum, Coventry, Wed Dec 11
If you’d rather embrace the season in all its melodic merriment, head to The Herbert for a festive romp through 600 years of Christmas carols, songs and music with musicians GreenMatthews (with special guest Jude Rees of Pilgrims’ Way), who will be playing some archaic instruments such as cittern, shawm and rauschpfeife, as well as more familiar instruments such as guitar, flute, oboe and accordion.
Carols at the Castle, Warwick Castle, Sat 21 Dec
A majestic evening in the Courtyard, with hot food and drinks including mulled wine. Carols will be led by the choir of St Mary’s and accompanied by the traditional tones of the fantastic Royal Spa Brass. Money raised goes to support local good causes.
The Snowman with Live Orchestra, Coventry Cathedral, Dec 7
Immerse yourself in Raymond Briggs’ irresistible animated film of Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman accompanied by a live orchestra for a heart-warming experience to put you in the Christmas mood.
An annual afternoon concert in aid of NSPCC Coventry & Warwickshire Business Board with Jaguar Land Rover Band, Coventry Cathedral choristers, local schoolchildren betwen 2.30 and 4.30pm.
Armonico Consort’s Carols by Candlelight, St Mary’s, Warwick, Dec 18
The traditional Carols by Candlelight will once again take place in the enchanted setting of the Collegiate Church of St Mary, Warwick. Featuring a critically-acclaimed choir of AC Academy Scholars, 7.30pm.
Christmas Carols at Charlecote, Dec 21
Enjoy Christmas carols after hours in the wood yard! Wellesbourne Sings will be performing a mix of popular classics and traditional Christmas songs with a chance to sing along. The wood yard café will be on hand serving festive snacks, mulled wine and hot drinks to keep you warm throughout the performance and during the interval, 6,30pm – 8pm. The first carol concert on Dec 14 is already sold out, booking essential.
PANTO & FESTIVE FAMILY SHOWS
Love or loathe them, panto’s are in full swing and the Belgrade’s Puss in Boots is a shining example of slapstick absurdity. Written and directed by Iain Lauchlan, who stars as Dame Matilda Pudding, this year’s show marks the former children’s TV presenter’s 25th year in panto at the Coventry theatre. His long-term comedy partner-in-crime Craig Hollingsworth plays Matilda’s son, Simon aka Baggie B a who wants to be an ‘Instafamous’ rapper…It runs until Sat 11 Jan.
Raymond Briggs’ Father Christmas, Warwick Arts Centre, University of Warwick campus, Coventry, Wed Nov 27 – Sun Dec 29
A blooming brilliant festive treat for children aged 3 to six-years-old and their families! This critically acclaimed production by London’s Lyric Hammersmith Theatre and Pins and Needles follows Briggs’ grumpy but lovable Father Christmas as he gets ready for his busiest day of the year, Christmas Eve. First published in 1973, Father Christmas won Briggs the annual Kate Greenaway Medal for best children’s book illustration (his second win). The author went on to write and draw many other acclaimed books for children, including The Snowman, Fungus The Bogeyman, Ug: Boy Genius Of The Stone Age, and The Bear. Tel: 024 7652 4524 or see: warwickartscentre
Liam Steel returns to direct a new visually spectacular 21st century version of J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan at Birmingham Rep. With the delightful twist of a Brummie setting, the show features lots of aerial flying, puppetry, a giant man-eating crocodile and sprinkle of fairy dust. The show follows Olivier Award-winning Steel’s modern retelling of The Wizard of Oz at Birmingham Rep Theatre last year, which proved to be a big hit with audiences.
At Leamington’s Royal Spa Centre, the fairest panto of them all Snow White runs Sat 7 Dec- Sun 5 Jan, starring Emma Marsh in her professional debut and welcoming back JP McCue for his eighth year, joined by Sean Dodds for more mayhem. There’s also another production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs showing at Birmingham Hippodrome from Dec 21 – Sun 2 Feb, featuring sets and costumes direct from the London Palladium.
There’s an icy chill in the air at Coventry’s Albany Theatre from Mon 9 Dec-Sat 28 Dec, when the Snow Queen rolls into town. Hans Christian Andersen’s classic tale of sparkling princesses, wicked wizards and Jack Frost is adapted by Ceridwen Theatre Company, whose adaptation of Peter Pan was a blast.
Dreaming of doorbells and sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles? To celebrate their 70th anniversary, the Rugby Theatre will be spiriting audiences away to the mountains of Salzburg, as Director Emma Bright presents singing nuns, yodling goatherds in The Sound of Music. And also in the town, Santa and the Christmas Dragon will be showing at Rugby’s Macready Theatre from Sun 8 Dec – Fri 13 Dec. It tells of two children who receive a dragon for Christmas.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Birmingham Hippodrome, Dec 21 – Feb 2 2020
Another outing with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs featuring sets and costumes direct from the London Palladium. The all-star line up features Lesley Joseph, Matt Slack, Joe McElderry, Faye Brookes, Flawless, Doreen Tipton and Andrew Ryan.
Meet the Mini-Beast handling sessions, Stratford-upon-Avon Butterfly Farm, 27 Dec – 5 Jan
Fancying hanging out somewhere tropical to escape the cold and raain? With constant temperatures of over 25°C, this popular attraction is a good place to take family or friends with small children during the festive holidays. Discover the stunningly beautiful Christmas Butterfly, also known as Papilio Demodocus and take part in twice daily ‘Meet the Mini-Beast’ handling sessions – where intrepid kids can hold creatures such as a Madagascan Hissing Cockroach, giant African Millipede, African Land Snail and a variety of stick insects.
FESTIVE FOOD & DRINK
Panforte Workshop, Oken’s Kitchen in Warwick, Fri 13 Dec
The cookery school and china rental hub run by the owners of Thomas Oken Tea Rooms next to Warwick Castle will teaching how to create the Italian delicacy while humming to festive tunes and sipping mulled wine.
December Happy Hour and Sunday Lunch with Festive Live Music, The Arden Hotel, Waterside, Stratford-upon-Avon, Sun 15 Dec & Sun Jan 19
Enjoy a delicious Sunday roast while listening to some great festive live music in No 44 Brasserie on The Waterside, from £16.50. Throughout this month get £10 off a bottle of Prosecco and two for one on selected cocktails and mixers (Sun-Thurs, 8-10pm)
Tel: 01789 298682, www.theardenhotelstratford.com
Vegan Christmas feasts, Better Bites Cookery School, Birmingham, Mon 10 Dec
Not only will this class give you vegan options that can stand up to any traditional classic but it will also give you some creative ideas for how to switch up your recipe game this year. If you’re a beginner, you will have full instructions, demos and will be buddied up with either your friend (if you booked the 2 person ticket) or another member of the class. Class sizes are limited to 8 to keep the chilled and fun vibes in the kitchen. You will learn how to create a display and plate up show stopper style. Afterwards everyone will retire to the dining room fo to sample some booker and enjoy a little social time., £65.
At The Stables in Milton Keynes, The Great British Bake Off contestant, turned TV presenter and cook Nadiya Hussain speaks candidly to Muddy Book Club Live alumna, author Viv Groskop, about her youth, arranged marriage, becoming a wife and mother and her new book Finding My Voice (9 Dec).
London sherry trail
Sherry is one of the most British festive tipples. Where are the best places to savour a glass of Andalusian Sherry in the capital? Check out the best bodegas and bars in London here.
Mama Mia! A brand new (and, quite frankly, must-see) exhibition is coming to The O2, London this month – ABBA: Super Troupers is a journey through the Swedish band’s career and will feature personal items and artefacts never seen before in the UK (6 Dec – 21 Aug 2020).
Another newbie is Tutankhamun – Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh at the Saatchi Gallery. One of the biggest cultural events in the winter calendar, the exhibit features 150+ original artefacts found in the Pharaoh’s tomb that was unearthed in 1922.
Other exhibitions worth a snoop are Vogue fashion and portrait photographer Tim Walker‘s enchanting, fantastical, frankly insane collection of work at the V&A (until 8 March); William Blake at Tate Britain, with the visionary painter and poets work blown up to enormous scale using digital technology (until 2 Feb 2020); Into the Night: Cabarets & Clubs in Modern Art at the Barbican – a history of cabarets, clubs, dancefloors and party spaces that inspired artists from the 1880s to the 1960s (4 Oct – 19 Jan).