The West End may be short on traditional festive entertainment this year, but there are plenty of Christmassy shows on offer a little further afield.
Richmond Theatre, an exquisite Victorian playhouse overlooking Richmond Green, has the unlikely combination of Julian Clary and Postman Pat in Cinderella - lots of jokes about bulging parcels, no doubt - while the Churchill Theatre, Bromley, is playing host to the dashing Paul Nicholas as Captain Hook in Peter Pan.
Shane Richie stars in Jack and the Beanstalk at Wimbledon Theatre, just down the road from the Polka Theatre's The Night Before Christmas, a play rather than a panto, based on the famous poem by Clement Clarke Moore.
The Lyric, Hammersmith, has invited the radical touring company Told By An Idiot to come up with a new version of Aladdin, mixing traditional panto with something new. Thigh-slapping principal boys and wand-waving fairy godmothers may be in short supply here. Over the same period, the Lyric Studio will be putting on a show for the under sixes, All Wrapped Up, with lots of audience participation. The comedy actor-writer Roy Hudd has been busy this year, with two traditional pantos of his own creation coming to Greenwich (Jack and the Beanstalk) and Watford (Dick Whittington). Hackney Empire normally has a panto but since it is in the throes of refurbishment, they are offering a couple of alternative Christmas shows in their temporary space, the Bullion Room. One is for young children, Fun Song Factory, from the writers of TV's The Tweenies, while the other, A Chile Christmas, features actor-explorer Peter Searles relating his hairy adventures in South America.
Staying in east London, there is a choice of shows at Stratford's adjacent venues. The newly smartened-up Theatre Royal has Aladdin, while neighboring Stratford Circus, the recently opened multi-purpose arts centre, offers Snow Black & Rose Red, a veritable melting pot of African, Caribbean and Asian mythology which does for panto what Return to the Forbidden Planet does for Shakespeare.
If you're looking for a more traditional Snow White, you'll need to hop on a bus to The Broadway Theatre, Lewisham, where children's TV luminary Mark Speight will be competing for the limelight with the vertically challenged septet.
Furthering their reputation for unusual and innovative Christmas shows, BAC in Battersea has a musical version of Jules Verne's Around the World in 80 Days by Phil Willmott and Annemarie Lewis Thomas. It'll be interesting to see how they cope with soaring balloons, bad-tempered elephants, and storm-tossed ships. Expect resourceful designs and some imaginative miming.
As for The West End, it does have The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe at Sadlers Wells Theatre for the second year running, a stage version of The Hobbit at the Queen's, Shaftesbury Avenue, and the exhilarating South African musical Umoja at the Shaftesbury - all suitable for a family outing. You'll also find Cinderella staged by the Bubble Theatre - the same one that tours the London parks in summer - installed at the cozy Cochrane Theatre, off Holborn. And not far away, The Snowman returns to the Peacock Theatre, off Kingsway, for the fourth successive year.
Aladdin (Lyric Theatre Hammersmith)
Jack and the Beanstalk (Greenwich Theatre)
Around the World in 80 Days (BAC)
The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (Sadler's Wells)
The Hobbit (Queens Theatre)
Umoja(Shafte sbury Theatre)
Cinderella (Cochrane Theatre)
The Snowman (Peacock Theatre)
Cinderella (Dec. 13 - Jan. 20)
Box Office - 020 8940 0088
Peter Pan(Dec. 13 - Jan. 20)
Churchill Theatre, Bromley
Box Office - 020 8460 6677
Jack And The Beanstalk (Dec. 7 - Jan. 20)
Box Office - 020 8540 0362
The Night Before Christmas (Nov. 15 - Feb. 2)
Box Office - 020 8543 4888
Dick Whittington (Dec. 1 - Jan. 12)
Watford Palace Theatre
Box office: 01923 225671
Aladdin (Dec. 1 - Jan. 26)
Theatre Royal Stratford
Box Office - 020 8534 0310
Fun Song Factory, A Chile Christmas (Dec. 4 - Jan. 13)
Bullion Room, Hackney Empire
Box Office - 020 8985 2424
Snow Black And Rosa Red (Dec. 20 - Jan. 12)
Box Office - 020 8279 1000
Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs (Dec. 17 - Jan. 13)
Broadway Theatre, Lewisham
Box Office - 020 8690 0002
—by Nick Smurthwaite Theatrenow