Christmas is coming, and a trip to the theatre is all part of the magic. We round up the best shows in and around Cambridge this year
Cambridge Arts Theatre: 28 November – 11 January
This year’s Arts Theatre panto promises to be an absolute corker: Cinderella is working her fingers to the bone, dreaming of a better life, while her ugly stepsisters plot and scheme. But a surprise visit from her fairy godmother turns her life upside down. There’s obviously something about Christmas in Cambridge that keeps panto stars coming back for more – Wayne Sleep is returning a year on from his stint as the evil Abanazar in 2018’s Aladdin, while Liza Goddard makes her third visit to Cambridge, this year starring as the Fairy Godmother.
And the panto wouldn’t be the same without audience favourite Matt Crosby, marking his 15th Christmas at the Arts Theatre – but his first ever as an Ugly Sister. “I’ve always been Buttons in Cinderella,” says Matt.
“But Wayne and I did Aladdin together last year, and I said that if he would be one ugly sister then I’d be the other – and luckily he felt the same. The two of us started rehearsals a week earlier than everyone else, and it’s been a hoot so far!” And what is it that brings Matt back to Cambridge year after year? “I came 15 years ago as a favour to my friend Brad, who was directing the panto at the time. And I just loved it, it felt like home. When the lights go on, there’s nowhere more beautiful, and everyone is so friendly.”
Matt puts the success of the Arts Theatre panto partly down to the great rapport between the cast. “There are so many people who come back, so it feels like a family – the audience pick up on the fun we’re having so they have fun, too.” Tickets start at £19.
The Wind in the Willows
Cambridge Junction: 11 December – 5 January
The annual Junction Christmas show is far from a traditional panto, but this year’s show captures the very best bits – lots of physical comedy and audience interaction – while giving the concept a very modern, fresh reworking. It’s a heartwarming look at the theme of friendship, through the prism of Kenneth Grahame’s classic tale of riverbank animals, and adults and children alike will come away feeling as if they’ve had more than just an entertaining evening.
Rachel Porter, Suzanna Hurst and Sarah Moore from theatre company Figs in Wigs, who are producing the show, explain: “The Junction has been supporting us since we started out in 2012, when we took part in their Escalator scheme promoting new acts from the east of England, and we were over the moon when they asked us to produce their Christmas show for this year,” says Sarah.
“We picked The Wind in the Willows partly because it’s one of our favourite stories, but also because it’s almost always acted by men, and as an all-female group we wanted to give it a different slant. We also wanted to avoid anything too ‘princessy’, so that ruled out a lot of the more traditional fairy tales. It is a story about friendship rather than romantic love, which really appealed to us.”
This new story catches up with Mole, Ratty and Toad a year after the events of the well-known book. “Toad is still obsessed with travel, but this time he’s expanded his horizons to space, and the three friends take off on an interstellar adventure,” explains Suzanna. The riverbank animals will also be embracing the festive season, in their own unique way: “The animals know that Christmas is important, but they’re not entirely sure why, so they get things a bit wrong!” says Rachel.
The Junction is a great space for a more intimate Christmas show, and the Figs are really looking forward to performing there. “It offers lots of potential for audience interaction and trying out new things,” continues Sarah. “We’ve got lots of surprises in store for the audience, and we’re very excited about being part of a Cambridge Christmas!”
Tickets cost from £10.
Saint Petersburg Classic Ballet
Corn Exchange: 29 December – 4 January
What better way to welcome in the new year than with an unforgettable visit to the ballet? For several years now, the Saint Petersburg Classic Ballet has delighted Cambridge audiences over the new year period with two stunning productions; this year, they’ve gone one better, offering a triple bill of Tchaikovsky ballets. In The Nutcracker on 29 and 31 December, discover the timeless story of Clara, who is whisked away on a fairytale adventure by her nutcracker prince. On 1 and 2 January, meet princess Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty, who is awakened from a deep sleep by her valiant prince.
The wicked Carabosse and the beautiful Lilac Fairy are joined by a host of fairytale characters in this enchanting production. Finally, on 3 and 4 January, prepare to be swept away by the tragic beauty of Swan Lake, the tale of Prince Siegfried and his true love, Odette, who are fooled by evil sorcerer Von Rothbart and his daughter Odile – but would rather die than live apart. All three ballets feature a full orchestra and dazzling soloists. Performances vary between 2pm,
5pm and 7pm, and tickets start at £18.
The Nutcracker and I
Saffron Hall: 21/22 December
Everyone knows the story of The Nutcracker – it has become almost synonymous with Christmas. But this show – created and performed by Romanian pianist Alexandra Dariescu – presents the classic tale in a way that’s never been done before.
Featuring Alexandra playing live on stage alongside a single ballerina, the breathtaking Tchaikovsky score comes together with state-of-the-art digital effects to create a unique, multi-sensory, captivating Christmas treat for the whole family.
The show has toured the world, playing to more than 700,000 people – 65% of whom were children – and we are incredibly fortunate to be welcoming the production to Saffron Walden this Christmas. Innovative, immersive and truly enthralling, this is an event not to be missed. Tickets from £4.
Jack & The Beanstalk
Mumford Theatre: 21/22 December
A proper, old-fashioned Christmas panto aimed at children aged from three to 12, Jack and the Beanstalk at the Mumford Theatre is guaranteed to put a smile on your face. Get ready to cheer for our hero Jack, boo the evil Mayor Botchett and roar with laughter at the antics of Barmy Bosworth and Dimples the cow as they try to get the better of Dame Lumpkin. With two performances on Saturday and two more on Sunday, it’s the perfect way to get your family in the mood for festive fun.
Tickets are £10.
The Leys: 17-22 December
If panto isn’t really your thing then the Cambridge Theatre Company’s production of Hairspray presents a cracking alternative. It’s 1962 in Baltimore, and loveable plus-size teen Tracy Turnblad has only one ambition: to dance on the Corny Collins show.
Her audition transforms Tracy into an overnight star – and soon she’s using her newfound fame to win the heart of Link Larkin and fight for integration – all without denting her ’do! This rock ‘n’ roll rollercoaster ride has been enchanting theatregoers since its Broadway debut in 2002, and before that was a hugely successful 1980s movie.
The Cambridge Theatre Company has performed more than 12 musicals in the last three years in venues all around the city, and is particularly proud of its work in offering opportunities to talented young performers in the community. Tickets start at £12.50.
Little Red Riding Hood
ADC Theatre: 27 November – 7 December
Little Red Riding Hood has grown up on the edge of the woods with only her mum for company. One day she runs into the forest in search of answers, but instead she meets the Big Bad Wolf, as well as her estranged father Robin, and his gang of anti-wolf revolutionaries. When this father-daughter reunion turns out to be more than she bargained for, Red must find her way back home through a forest full of magic and mystery.
This year’s production, brought to you by the world-famous Cambridge Footlights comedy troupe, promises to be an unusual, hilarious and anarchic take on the traditional panto. As many of its stars are students, the show only runs until 7 December – so don’t hang about if you want tickets. There are shows every day except Sundays and plenty of matinee performances, too. Tickets start at £13.