Things to do with children between Christmas and New Year: a guide to the best London events
Break out of the Christmas cocoon and enjoy some of the fabulous family events to make the most of the holidays and amuse all ages.
It's not too late for a white Christmas
Antarctica, Battersea Arts Centre
Intrepid explorers aged two to six (and their brave mums and dads) are invited to join a fun-filled expedition to the heart of winter. Little Bulb Theatre, known for their imaginative approach to visual and physical performance, have devised an imaginary journey to the South Pole. Children are encouraged to join in -- from navigating to identifying and befriending a whole host or arctic creatures. Throw in music, puppets and the promise of 'plenty of snowy surprises' and the festive magic will feel very real in Battersea. Plus, as a little treat for the adults, Culture Whisper members get a free mince pie when they buy a glass of mulled wine this December. Just show your CW membership card at the B.A.C bar.
For tiny tots and their teddies
Grandad, Me... and Teddy Too, Polka Theatre
This sweet show for littles ones age two to five follows a Mia, her grandad and of course her beloved teddy bear on an extraordinary adventure. Along with the magic of a live score and an ethereal indoor pretend garden space for the audience, the show captivates children with an authentic presentation of family relationships. Grandad lives far away and our young heroine is itching with excitement to play with him in real life, but the subtle strangeness of long distance relationships is shown as the real life grandad is bigger than he looked on Skype, and unfamiliar with her toys. So whether the grandparents are near or far, Grandad, Me and Teddy Too is an engaging reminder of the importance of family. And, with a bring your own bear policy, there's no forgetting the special toys.
Inspire budding artists and lego architects
The Art of the Brick, The Old Truman Brewery
If Father Christmas brought some lego this year then head to The Old Truman Brewery for some grand scale project inspiration. The life-size lego renditions of famous art are awe-inspiring for children of all ages but just as exciting for ambitious mums and dads eyeing up the brightly-coloured bricks for their own grand designs. There is nothing especially festive about the exhibition, which may well be a welcome relief after months of bells and holly.
Run away with the circus
Lionboy, Tricycle Theatre
Lionboy (photo by Mark Douet)
The heart-warming story of Charlie Ashanti, a little boy with an unusual ability, is a thought-provoking spectacle for older children (we'd recommend ages eight and up). Ideas about fitting in and doing the right thing are staged with wit. But it's the simplicity that makes this production so charming. Live percussion punctuates the drama and the ensemble cast shift between a variety of characters seamlessly and manipulate a few props to become anything from a canoe to cage. The physical theatre will with hoopla acrobatics and stunning shadow puppetry. Our highlight was when a moral dilemma was explored as a faux boxing match. It was an ingenious way of introducing complex issues, and so rousing that children were out of their seats, jumping and cheering and grown ups were fighting back tears.
A new spin on the pantomime that will have you in fits of laughter
Cinderella and the Beanstalk, Theatre 503
Turning tradition on its head, and then inside out, Josh, John and James are putting on a panto. They have all the trimmings except one crucial ingredient: a cast! Cherry-picking the best parts of a whole cacophony of fairytales, this festive tale follows Cinderella, but not as you know the rags to riches proto-princess. Instead our heroine embarks on an action-packed adventure at the hands of a very corrupt Rumple Stiltskin in search of golden eggs which are, wait for it, at the very top of a beanstalk. Prepare to marvel as the three performers embody all the stalwarts of panto, and a few more surprising cameos, too. The classic fun and foibles of a festive panto are mingled with the blend of riotous comedy and high octane physical theatre for which comic theatre company Sleeping Trees are renowned. We took the whole family and the verdict was unanimous: hilarious and not to be missed.
Or go for a traditional panto with tremendous talent
Mother Goose, Hackney Empire
What better place to take in a traditional Christmas pantomime than Hackney Empire? This Grade II listed building was built as a music hall in 1901 and has played host to performances from Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel. Their festive show is renowned for shinny celebrity in favour of stellar talent, and this year's Mother Goose certainly has solid gold credentials with not one but two Olivier winners. The dame (unusually here also the title character) is played by Clive Rowe, a veteran of musical theatre who was nominated for an Olivier Award for the same role in 2008. Although this this is the star attraction, expect more than your usual helping of outrageous costume, uproarious energy, music and dancing
A traditional ballet to warm your hearts
The Little Match Girl, Lilian Baylis Studio
On Christmas Eve in a snow-dusted Italian town, under distant winter stars, the Little Match Girl plies her humble wares to a rich Italian family. Like everyone else, they push her aside, and she retreats to her grandmother’s tomb in the cemetery for comfort. But Christmas Eve is no ordinary night, and the grandmother appears in a vision to carry the Little Match Girl away from her troubles to the magical world of the moon. Combining his ecstatic choreography with a scattering of Italian operatics, live music and Yann Seabra’s innovative set, Arthur Pita plays to his dance theatre roots. The rather grim Hans Christian Anderson fairytale is transformed into a fantastical adventure, complete with lunar exploration vehicles and a weightless pas de deux with an astronaut. Named “a gem,” and “wonderfully inventive,” by critics, the whole production sparkles with stars and little match flames. It’s enchanting for all the family, and a great opportunity to catch a raucous choreographer for once happy to settle for telling a great story.
Brave the great outdoors for a glittering nocturnal nature trail
Christmas at Kew, Kew Gardens
Wrap up warm and brave the great outdoors to glimpse the glittering festive wonderland of Christmas at Kew. This year there's a new nocturnal trail through the trees featuring super sized shimmery snowflakes, a tunnel of lights and the intriguingly named ‘Garden of Fire’. For the kids there's a Snowflake Grotto, Victorian carousel and an outdoor playground. And while the children are playing, adults can enjoy the selection warming food and booze on offer, including roasted chestnuts, spiced cider and, of course, mulled wine. The traditional focus and the stunning backdrop of the gardens in their wintry glory make Christmas at Kew one of the sweetest festive events this year, especially as the pre-Christmas rush dwindles. With all the fairylit fun of a festive event, without the soulless feel of Hyde Park's mega Winter Wonderland, even the scrooges will get into the Christmas spirit.