Cambridge theatreland is offering a stellar line-up of festive treats for the whole family – here's a taste of what's in store
5-31 December Rapunzel
The Christmas show at the Junction is always something a little bit special. A nice change from the traditional panto fare, the J2 venue offers a very intimate theatre experience, making it perfect for a magical, escapist festive story. This year, theatre company Dancing Brick are making a welcome return to Cambridge with a follow-up to their hugely successful production of Thumbelina’s Big Adventure back in 2013.
2017’s production is Rapunzel, and we’re all familiar with the story of the young woman, imprisoned by an old witch in a tower, and rescued when she lets down her hair for the handsome prince to climb and set her free. But don’t expect to meet a traditional fairy-tale damsel in distress in this production, waiting helplessly to be rescued.
“It’s not set in the modern day, but our version of the story is very much a contemporary version,” explains Thomas Eccleshare, co-director of the show along with Valentina Ceschi. “Our Rapunzel is a wild young woman, with hair everywhere, waiting to be liberated rather than rescued. The story is set in a very conservative, buttoned-up town, where everyone is obsessed with looking exactly right and having the latest, perfect hairstyle. Rapunzel is set to unleash her wildness on the townspeople, teaching them along the way that sometimes it’s good to break out, and not to conform to the standard way of looking and being. It’s a very relevant message in this era of selfies and social media, and the modern obsession with looking perfect and just like everyone else.”
The show is packed with songs and live music, and promises to be a really special Christmas experience. “It’s a show that the whole family, adults and children alike, can enjoy,” says Thomas. “But it’s not a pantomime, it’s not all just fun and farce. It’s a totally unique, theatrical production that will move the audience, make them laugh, but also hopefully scare them a tiny bit from time to time too!”
Dancing Brick has created Rapunzel specifically for the J2 space at the Junction, and will be rehearsing the show there over the coming weeks until the opening night on 5 December. “We’re really excited to be back in Cambridge,” says Thomas. “I was a student here, so it’s where I first got into doing theatre, and there’s really nowhere better to spend autumn and Christmas. I used to do workshops at the Junction when I was starting out, so it’s a really special place for me and I’m thrilled to be back.
"Dancing Brick had a fantastic time at the Junction with Thumbelina, and the team here have built up a strong reputation for putting on really original, unique Christmas shows. There’s a great returning audience and we look forward to welcoming back some of the families who have enjoyed our work here before as well as lots of people who are seeing us for the first time.”
Times vary, with shows during the day and in the evening, including a British Sign Language performance on 17 December and a relaxed performance on 28 December.
Tickets cost from £10 to £15.50.
22 November – 2 December
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Cambridge University Amateur Dramatics Club and Footlights have teamed up for this year’s Christmas offering at the ADC theatre, an uproarious panto set in the bustling streets of Paris on the Feast of Fools.
Featuring gargoyles, pantomime dames, dancing goats, drunken clowns and forgotten villains, it promises to be a real feast for the eyes and ears. There are two shows most days, at 2.30pm and 7.45pm. Tickets start at £9.
30 November – 7 January Jack and the Beanstalk
Christmas in Cambridge wouldn’t be Christmas without the Arts Theatre panto. This year, it’s Jack and the Beanstalk, and – unbelievable but true – Tony Christie, of Show me the way to Amarillo fame is starring as the King of Amarillo. Liza Goddard plays the Good Fairy and the hilarious Matt Crosby is Dame Trott, in his 12th Arts Theatre panto!
Stephen Beckett returns for his fourth outing as the panto villain – this year as the evil Fleshcreep. We asked Cambridge’s nastiest repeat offender to tell us a bit about this year’s show. “It follows the traditional Jack and the Beanstalk story that we all know but there are some very exciting departures,” he explains. “I don’t want to give too much away, but how the story develops – what happens to the giant and the characters – are all ‘Cambridge-ised’! Your classic panto story is still very much the framework, but we’ve turned it into what Cambridge is famous for – one of the trendiest pantos in the country!”
Stephen is a big fan of our fair city, too. “Cambridge is the perfect Christmas town,” he says. “Spires, cobbled streets, the market… and of course the Arts Theatre has wonderful audiences. It’s a really nice place to play with a team of people who really know what they’re doing. And I love the baked potatoes on the market!” Tickets cost from £17 to £39.
10 December The Snowman
This beautiful film, adapted from Raymond Briggs’ animated storybook, is a true Christmas classic, best seen in December, on a big screen. Famously, the film contains no dialogue, telling the story through the beautiful animated illustrations and the original music. This screening at Saffron Hall – in the grounds of Saffron Walden’s County High school – features live accompaniment by the Southbank Simphonia, and promises to be a truly magical event.
As an added bonus, the production also includes a live reading of The Nutcracker and the Mouse King by Pui from CBeebies, set to music from Tchaikovsky’s ballet score. Shows are at 1.30pm and 3.30pm and tickets are £15-£25, with under 18s half price.
12 December A Christmas Carol
So much of what we think of as a traditional Christmas comes from the Victorians, and Dickens’ A Christmas Carol encapsulates all the best bits of a 19th Century celebration, with plenty of food, drink, romance, a tear-jerking cute kid, and of course, a few ghosts. This was the first of Dickens’ novels that he performed himself in public and he went on to enact it over 150 times. This production at Mumford Theatre reproduces those original performances as closely as possible, with actor John O’Connor as Dickens performing what is arguably his most-loved creation. Tickets from £8.50 to £12.50.
12 December That'll Be The Day
If panto isn’t really your cup of tea, but you’re partial to a good Christmas song, then this show at the Corn Exchange will really get you into the festive spirit.
A rollercoaster, rock ’n’ roll ride through the Christmas hits of the 50s, 60s and 70s, this seasonal version of the hugely popular variety show is a festive feast of live music, dancing and plenty of Christmassy comedy.
Tickets cost from £22.75 to £28.75.
16-17 December Aladdin
Take your family on a magic-carpet ride through space and time to the city of Old Peking for a fantastic pantomime adventure with Aladdin and his friends. This Mumford Theatre show really is fantastic, traditional panto territory, complete with Widow Twanky, Wishee Washee and the evil baddie, Abanazar, so make sure you’re ready to boo, hiss and shout ‘he’s behind you!’. The show is bursting with laughs, excitement and adventure, and promises to be a fantastic, Christmassy evening out that the entire family will enjoy. Tickets are £8.
30 December – 1 January Saint Petersburg Classic Ballet
Stunning dancers, dazzling costumes, breathtaking Tchaikovsky scores… what better way to say farewell to 2017 and hello to 2018 than with an unforgettable visit to the ballet? Last year’s tour by the Saint Petersburg Classical Ballet was a huge success, and they return to the Corn Exchange again this year with two classic ballets. In The Nutcracker on 30 and 31 December, audiences young and old will be captivated by the timeless story of Clara, who is whisked away on a fairy-tale adventure by her Nutcracker Prince.
Then on 1 January, prepare to be swept away by the tragic beauty of one of the world’s most famous ballets, 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. Both ballets feature a full orchestra and dazzling soloists. Performances are at 2pm and 7pm, and tickets start at £17.75.