You shall go to the ball

22nd December 2000 at 00:00
Heather Neill samples some of the Christmas productions on offer

The story of Cinderella is an ancient one, told in some version all over the world. The company at the tiny Southwark Playhouse in south London has set theirs, retitled The Glass Slipper, in 18th-century London, with Ella living in Camberwell. The booklet for schools has a helpful map showing landmarks of the period, and contains information on chocolate houses and the Vauxhall Gardens.

This is "poor" theatre in the best sense of the word - bring your imagination rather than an expectation of lavish sets and costumes. A hot-air balloon, for instance, "lands" just off-stage and Cinderella alights. We know because we see her ankle.

The ghost of her mother (a benign presence without a sparkly wand) arranges for a ball gown to arrive, wrapped in brown paper, down the chimney. Much funnier if less magical than a transformation scene.

Rupert Bates as George III has an amusing, ironic way with the most straightforward sentence and Alison Pettitt as Ella and Bridgitta Roy as her mother both have sweet singing voices.

No ugly sisters here - Melissa Collier and Hannah Stokely are pretty as well as pretty nasty. The costumes suggest the right period, but has Cinderella lost her wig? Tickets: 020 7620 3494.

In Birmingham, Cinderella - the Ash Girl, a new version of the story by Timberlake Wertenbaker, has inspired story boxes made in 14 local primary schools. Children decorated boxes with the help of artists Paula Woof and Helen Turner, then created an environment within each box, incorporating pictures, 3D images and sound. The boxes are on display in the Birmingham Rep foyer. Tickets for the show: 0121 236 4455.

Rossini's Cinderella has been transformed by Music Theatre London into panto at the capital's Drill Hall and is presented with a companion piece, Cinderella 2 - Gentlemen Prefer Wands, the story of what happens after the happy ending. Expect magic, fun, cross-dressing and risque humour. Tickets: 020 7637 8270.

Anothe panto staple, with a fairy-tale beginning, is the Bubble Theatre's choice this year. Sleeping Beauty at the Cochrane in central London is a great advertisement for Fifties rock 'n' roll - tiny boppers people the aisles at the drop of a Dansette arm. And that's the reason for the setting - Princess Talia (Manjinder Virk) pricks her thumb on a record player needle.

This is the most republican Sleeping Beauty you are likely to see: the descendants of Talia's parents are found, 100 years later, in a council flat with their son Prince Ronnie (Adam Kay). Nurse Maureen (Simon Thomson - "Make way for me, I'm a pantomime dame") and Fairy Crystal step out of "the narrative time frame" - another first for panto - to cheat the ageing process and help Prince Ronnie fulfil his quest.

This version, written and directed by Jonathan Petherbridge, targets seven to 11-year-olds,with plenty of daft humour and flying dough balls, but the process is a bit flabby. A little tightening of pace and purpose and a shorter cooking scene, and this panto could be a real winner. Tickets: 020 7242 7040. Information about other Bubble projects: 020 7237 4434.

At the Young Vic, The Three Musketeers, adapted by Julian Webber, is essential for anyone who loves sword fights. The stage is a cruciform shape, so you can be nose to sword-point very frequently. The story, full of action and romance, is, of course, gripping as D'Artagnan (Phil Rowson) becomes a musketeer and fights (and fights and fights) to protect the honour of the beautiful Queen Anne and defeat dastardly Cardinal Richelieu and the sinister M'Lady.

There are plenty of jokes and visual gags. The costumes might be the result of a raid on the dressing-up box, but they give a flavour of the period and mostly stay intact. Tickets: 020 7928 6363.

Enjoy the holidays. If you can't face a trip out to see a show - and the above are just a few examples of hundreds - stay in to watch A Christmas Carol on video or, better still, read it again. God bless us, everyone.

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