Heather Neill scours the country from Southwark to Scarborough in search of the hot seasonal outings
Once upon a time we all knew what to expect from a Christmas show: a long-legged young woman dressed in fishnets pretended to be a boy and wooed another, shorter girl, while singing sentimental popular songs. The comedy was provided by a bewigged middle-aged man in falsies and a gingham dress repeating the mantra "Oh no it isn't". In the words of one astonished American visitor: "And they let the children watch?" The traditional panto, with its stange mix of folk tale and Victorian music hall (and latterly television references) is not yet dead, but all kinds of other entertainments proliferate. In this millennium year there is even a return to the original Christmas story (The Nativity at the Young Vic and The Mysteries at the National Theatre), but more about that next week.
Sleeping Beauty is a favourite panto plot, but the Little Angel Theatre's treatment of it, told by intricately made puppets, is magical - "the stuff of dreams" said a previous TES reviewer. There are also performances of The Frog Prince and John Agard's Go Noah Go! at the Islington theatre, which can also be booked for schools. Tickets: 020 7226 1787; information: 020 7359 8581.
The Torch Theatre in Milford Haven, Pembrokeshire, has compiled a history of Aladdin, its Christmas production. Aladdin was the first pantomime produced in England, apparently, and the name Widow Twankey is probably the result of the popularity of a green tea called twankhay, shipped from China to London in the 1860s. The show itself will probably be less educational than the press release. Tickets: 01646 695267.
If the Victorians invented what we think of as the "traditional" Christmas - cards, trees, plum pudding, etc - it is not surprising that Dickens is at the heart of it. The Haymarket Theatre in Basingstoke is presenting a new version of A Christmas Carol from today. Kate Dove, who wrote the script, says that she has attempted to keep closely to the original story. Teams of local young people will augment the cast. Tickets: 01256 465566 At Southwark Playhouse in the heart of Dickensian London, the choice is less obvious. The Old Curiosity Shop, the story of Little Nell and the sinister Quilp, a tale of bankruptcy and loss, makes seasonal escapism a little less easy. Pre-show walks through London are sometimes available. Tickets: 0171 620 3494.
Tired of looking back? At the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough, Alan Ayckbourn's sci-fi adventure Callisto 5 has been updated as Callisto NoNo7. Fourteen-year-old Jodi and her brother Jem are alone on the outermost moon of Jupiter...
And, just to end with a bit of magic, younger children in Scarborough can see Polka Theatre's The Elves and the Shoemaker. Tickets: 01723 370541. More shows next week. HN