A Christmas Carol, Old Vic, 23 November – 15 January
Charles Dickens’ Christmas classic has been a seasonal fixture in theatreland since the 1840s. And the Old Vic’s adaptation – written by West End golden boy Jack Thorne, co-author of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – is well on the way to becoming an institution of its own. Now in its third-year, the show has managed to elicit seasonal cheer from even the most curmudgeonly of critics. Last year, one admitted he’d set out not to like it, only to end up as spellbound as Scrooge himself. This time around Peep Show’s Paterson Joseph takes on the main role. That will be fun.
Snowflake, Kiln Theatre, 10 December – 25 January
Mike Bartlett – known to television viewers as the brains behind Doctor Foster and King Charles III – returns to the theatre with his first Christmas play. How nice, you might think. Though I suspect the title might have more to do with the modern usage of ‘snowflake’ – a description of emotionally-frail millennials – rather than a description of the scenery. After all, the play follows a 40-something father as his reunion with his estranged daughter takes an unexpected turn. While the synopsis hints at generational warfare, it’s worth keeping in mind that Bartlett doesn’t do lazy polemics. His Brexit-inspired epic Albion was impressively even-handed – and much the better for it.
Ravens: Spassky vs Fischer, Hampstead Theatre, 29 November – 18 January
In 2015 playwright Tom Morton-Smith gave us his compelling take on the Manhattan Project in the impressive Oppenheimer. Now he returns with a play about the chess match that shook the world: Boris Spassky vs Bobby Fischer in the final of the 1972 World Chess Championship. Charged with geopolitical significance, the game was received by the world as the ultimate battle of minds between the West and the Soviet Union. But who were the men sitting at the table? And how did they take to having the weight of the Cold War on their shoulders? This one sounds fascinating.
Various shows, Bunker Theatre, 12 – 23 November then 3 – 21 December
In its short three-year life, the Bunker Theatre has emerged as a true gem – a solid bet for anyone looking for seriously-good new writing. The last play I saw there was written by Anna Jordan, who worked on both Succession and Killing Eve – and the ticket still cost less than a G&T in a West End theatre. Now comes the sad news that, due a site-redevelopment, the Bunker will close its doors next year. Make sure to catch at least one of its three remaining productions this year: Little Miss Burden is a coming-of-age about growing up with a physical impairment, Before I Was a Bear is billed as a drama about friendship, sexuality and hot TV detectives, and I Will Still Be Whole is a hard-hitting reflection on family. As a big fan of the Bunker, I have full faith in all of them. And I’ll be gutted to see this place go.
Fairview, Young Vic, 28 November – 18 January
Kwame Kwei-Armah’s revamped Young Vic struck gold with its star-studded reimagining of Death of a Salesman. Now it’s in search of a more modern hit. Nadia Latif directs the UK premiere of Fairview – an American play which dazzled the critics in New York before winning this year’s Pulitzer prize. It’s apparently an eviscerating satire of race in America disguised as a conventional family play. All of which sounds like a pretty explosive evening of drama. Who doesn’t love a good family bust-up at Christmas?
The Ocean at the End of the Lane, National Theatre, 3 December – 25 January
Anyone wanting a show for the whole family need look no further than the National’s big-ticket adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s fantasy epic The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Gaiman’s young adult stories and graphic novels have been winning acclaim and prizes for years. Now with the success of American Gods and Good Omens he finds himself the darling of the big US television studios. With this being the first big theatrical adaptation of his work in London, it looks like the fantasy guru is finally getting some love from his native Britain.
Hunger, The Arcola, 20 November – 21 December
Norwegian novelist Knut Hamsun is adored in his homeland, regarded by some as the country’s answer to Ernest Hemingway and others as its Henry Miller. He published Hunger – a psychological thriller about a bohemian writer – in 1890; nearly 150 years later it’s been updated by playwright Amanda Lomas for its world premiere on stage. With its Joker-esque themes of alienation, desperation and impotent artistic rage, it’s probably as far from a Christmas romp as you can get. One for us congenital grinches then.