Christmas shows offer plenty of opportunities for a special family treat, whether you prefer your men in tights accompanied by a classical orchestra and a graceful ballerina, or a shouting audience and custard pies.
For many families a trip to the panto is as much a part of Christmas as a turkey and a tree. It is one of the few live entertainments designed to suit everyone from elderly aunties to fidgety toddlers, and generations of British families have marked their annual festivities with its celebration of all things silly.
But there are probably as many people who hate all the shouting out and cross-dressing as love it , and panto is far from the only option for a theatrical shared experience. Gloriously festive adaptations of children's books, musicals and ballet all offer the chance for a memorable Christmas outing.
Here is our selection of some of the best shows around the country.
Pick of the Pantos
Cinderella, Lichfield Garrick, Staffordshire
The nation's favourite panto story, this rags to riches, happy ever after tale is a treat. Lichfield regular Ian Adams dons a dizzying array of gowns as Madame Zuleika, Queen of the Gypsies. Nostalgic parents and grandparents might recognise 'Allo Allo star Arthur Bostrom (the French Gendarme) as the Count. It's a traditional, feel-good production with a nod to modernity – female ugly sisters.
December 4 to January 4, 2015
www.garrickpanto.co.uk, 01543 412121
Aladdin, King's Theatre, Edinburgh
The country's second favourite story in this year's panto polls, Edinburgh's Aladdin stars comic panto stalwarts and local favourites Allan Stewart, Andy Gray and Grant Stott. The production by panto giants Qdos ensures a high quality, crowd-pleasing show complete with magical carpet ride and top panto dame action from Widow Twankey.
November 29 to 18 January 18, 2015
www.edtheatres.com/aladdin, 0131 529 6000
Jack and the Beanstalk, Greenwich Theatre, London
With a loyal following amongst south London families, Greenwich Theatre has a reputation for good, clean (just the right amount of saucy humour) traditional pantomime. Resident dame Andrew Pollard is writing, directing and donning his frock for his ninth year at this cosy theatre which ignores the trend for TV celebrity panto casts. Pollard plays Dame Trott in this year's Jack and the Beanstalk (number three in the panto popularity stakes this year) and is promising the audience plenty of topical jokes, audience involvement and a spectacular giant.
November 20 – January 11, 2015.
www.greenwichtheatre.org.uk, 020 8858 7755.
Old Mother Goose, York Theatre Royal
Another venue which wins its exceptionally loyal audiences thanks to its much-loved writer/director/dame Berwick Kaler, one of the UK's longest- serving dames – rather than reality TV or soap stars. This year's offering, Old Mother Goose, also stars another York regular David Leonard as the baddie – fresh from playing the evil Miss Trunchbull in the West End smash hit musical, Matilda. A traditional, festive panto with purpose made sumptuous sets and costumes as well as plenty of jokes.
December 11- January 31, 2015
www.yorktheatreroyal.co.uk, 01904 623568
Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Theatre Royal Newcastle
One of the country's most popular pantomime venues, with over 90,000 tickets sold each year, Theatre Royal Newcastle will once again play host to local father and son comedy duo Clive Webb and Danny Adams. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves will see them tread Newcastle's panto boards together for the 10th time. The show is produced by Qdos Entertainment, the biggest companies in the business, and promises its audiences plenty of polish alongside the gags.
November 25 to January 18, 2015
www.theatreroyal.co.uk, 08448 112121
Jack and the Beanstalk, Theatre Clwyd, Mold
Jack and the Beanstalk with a musical twist is on offer in North Wales. Billed as a 'rock and roll panto', this will see the actor-musicians play the instruments as well as sing, dance and deliver the gags. The action will be accompanied by over 20 hit songs.
28 November to January 4, 2015
www.clwyd-theatr-cymru.co.uk, 0845 330 3565
For Panto-Phobes (oh no you won't)
Peter Pan, Polka Theatre, Wimbledon
One of the country's most respected children's theatres, Polka is a good port of call for a family treat without too many 'he's behind you' and 'oh no you didn'ts'. This brand new production sets JM Barrie's childhood classic, in the late 1950s and is aimed at children aged six and over and their families. Expect flying children, fairies, pirates, battles and lost boys as well as the thought provoking themes of growing up, independence and changing times. The show also features stunning puppetry (by internationally acclaimed puppet-maker Sue Dacre) and original songs and music.
November 21 to February 14, 2015
www.polkatheatre.com, 020 8543 4888
Wind in the Willows, Vaudeville Theatre, London
The Royal Opera House's hugely popular adaptation of Kenneth Grahame's heart-warming tale of four woodland friends returns for Christmas. Winner of this year's prestigious Olivier Award for Entertainment and Family, the show has been delighting audiences of all ages since becoming the prestigious Royal Opera House's first ever West End transfer last year. Alan Titchmarsh makes his West End debut as the narrator (his words written by former Poet Laureate, Sir Andrew Motion). Sumptuous sets, puppetry, breathtaking dance, music and song, and of course, a much-loved story make this a perfect festive treat.
November 26 to January 17, 2015
www.roh.org.uk, 020 7304 4000
Nutcracker, English National Ballet, London Coliseum
A beautiful version of The Nutcracker is as festive as it gets. The English National Ballet first performed this seasonal classic in 1950, its founding year, and it has been a fixture in their Christmas calendar ever since. This version, choreographed by Wayne Eagling has been seen by over 300,000 people since its 2010 debut. With the company's live orchestra bringing Tchaikovsky's wonderful score to life, this opulent production with fairies, dancing toys, a magical hot air balloon flight and a glittering Land of the Snow lands is wonderful. The cast (which varies according to date) includes Principal Dancers both Alina Cojocaru and Tamara Rojo, as Clara.
December 11 to January 4, 2015
www.ballet.org.uk/Nutcracker, 020 7845 9300 (the website has cast details for each date)
Irving Berlin's White Christmas, Dominion Theatre, London and West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds
Switch your annual viewing of White Christmas from your living room sofa to a theatre seat for an all–singing all-dancing version of Irving Berlin's legendary Broadway musical. Based on the Paramount Pictures film, productions in London and Leeds are bound to spread the Christmas cheer. Aled Jones (to many the voice of Christmas thanks to The Snowman theme song Walking in the Air) stars in London as Bob Wallace in this tale of two ex-army friends and showbiz stars who set out to save their former general's Vermont ski lodge. Live orchestra, lavish scenery and romance abound in a feel-good festive treat.
www.dominiontheatre.com, 0845 200 7982, November 8 to January 3, 2015
www.wyp.org.uk, 0113 2137700, November 24- January 17, 2015
Raymond Brigg's Father Christmas, Lyric Theatre, London and West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds
A perfect festive theatre treat for under-sixes, this wonderful stage adaptation of Raymond Brigg's much loved picture book by specialist children's theatre company Pins and Needles is bound to get excitement levels soaring. Featuring fabulous sets, catchy music and of course the big man and his sleigh, theatre goers can share the festive magic in London or Leeds. Join a delightfully grumpy Father Christmas as he awakes from a dream of summer sunshine to find it is the busiest day of his year.
www.lyric.co.uk, 020 8741 6850, November 14 to 31 December 31, 2015
www.wyp.org.uk, 0113 2137700 November 22 to January, 3, 2015
This year's annual panto day is on December 12, for details see www.celebratepanto.co.uk.