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14 shows to see this Christmas that have nothing to do with Christmas

Not everything is sparkle and sequins this festive season – here's a whole raft of shows on across the winter that have nothing to do with Christmas

Clockright from left: Summer and Smoke, Nine Night, True West
© Clockright from left: Marc Brenner, Helen Murray

While pantos and Christmas shows are all well and good, it's still business as usual for a lot of the theatre world this festive season. So if you're a bit of a Scrooge or just looking for some top-notch drama in lieu of advent calendar and mince pies, then this is the list for you.

Summer and Smoke

Matthew Needham and Patsy Ferran in Summer and Smoke
© Marc Brenner

Who needs mistletoe and wine when you can have Summer and Smoke? The Almeida production of Tennessee Williams' classic tale of romance and heartache (directed by Rebecca Frecknall) in the heat of the mid-Western sun was a storm when it first opened earlier this year, and now the piece comes to the West End, starring Patsy Ferran and Matthew Needham. Duke of York's Theatre, 10 November to 19 January


Kiss Me, Kate

Haul out the holly and brush up your Shakespeare with Sheffield Crucible's revival of legendary musical Kiss Me, Kate, based on Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew with extra metatheatrical fun. A fantastic cast including Dex Lee, Amy Ellen Richardson and Layton Williams make this a fantastic dose of musical theatre for Christmas. Sheffield Crucible, 7 December to 12 January


The Cane

Nicola Walker, Maggie Steed and Alun Armstrong
© Dan Wooller for WhatsOnStage

Mark Ravenhill's new play at the Royal Court is far from festive – it's based on the experiences of retiree teacher Edward whose house is besieged by angry students. A cast of theatre heavyweights may make this the perfect present for theatre-lovers – with Spooks' Nicola Walker, Les Mis' Alun Armstrong and Maggie Steed (most recently seen in the Pinter season in the West End) make up the cast. Royal Court, 6 December to 26 January


Sweat

Leanne Best, Martha Plimpton and Clare Perkins
© Dan Wooller for WhatsOnStage

Lynn Nottage's Pulitzer Prize-winning play has its UK premiere at the Donmar, directed by Lynette Linton. Based on two years' experience living in Reading, Pennsylvania (one of the poorest cities in the USA), the show explores racial tensions and industrial decline in America. It has a crack cast in what is sure to be a timely piece. Donmar Warehouse, 7 December to 26 January


The Tell-Tale Heart

Anthony Nielson takes the works of Edgar Allan Poe as his inspiration for new play The Tell-Tale Heart, which opens in December at the National Theatre. Described as 'twisted', 'graphic' and 'darkly-comic', Nielson may have cooked up the best antidote to incessant festive cheer. National Theatre, 5 December to 9 January


True West

A gritty Sam Shepard family drama about a Hollywood screenwriter and a drifter? Don't expect too much tinsel in Matthew Dunster's new production of this '80s classic and Pulitzer finalist, which stars Kit Harington (it might be a white Christmas with (Jon) Snow in the West End!) alongside actor, musician and all-round legend Johnny Flynn. Vaudeville Theatre, 23 November to 16 February


Uncle Vanya

Uncle Vanya
© Dan Wooller for WhatsOnStage

Christmas is a time for family, and Terry Johnson's new adaptation of Uncle Vanya is certainly a family affair – starring his daughter Alice Bailey Johnson as Sonia alongside Alan Cox as Vanya and June Watson as Marina. Chekhov's classic tale of a slowly decaying family deep in provincial Russia is a timeless story, so it'll be a nice treat to see it back in London. Hampstead Theatre, 30 November to 12 January


Doctor Faustus

Pauline McLynn, Jocelyn Jee Esien and Louis Maskell
© Left and centre: Dan Wooller for WhatsOnStage, left: Ori Jones

Demons, papal mockery and descent into hell are all things you wouldn't expect to find at Christmas, but in Paulette Randall's new production it's exactly what audiences can look forward to, all within the cosy confines of the wood-panelled Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at the Globe. Jocelyn Jee Esien takes on the role of Faustus, with the cast also featuring Pauline McLynn and former Grinning Man Louis Maskell as Benvolio. Shakespeare's Globe, 1 December to 2 February

The Convert

Letitia Wright
© Gage Skidmore/ CC BY-SA 3.0

Young Vic audiences will have the chance to see Black Panther and Black Mirror star Letitia Wright up close in this new revival of Danai Gurira's 2015 play The Convert. Exploring the history and legacy of Zimbabwe, the piece is directed by award-winning director Ola Ince. We're hedging our bets that this is going to be a must-see come December. Young Vic, 7 December to 26 January



Nine Night

Cecilia Noble in Nine Night
© Helen Murray

A wake at Christmas may not sound like too much of a party, but the traditional Jamaican nine night wake featured in Natasha Gordon's debut play is certainly a knees-up. Blending pathos with side-splitting humour (not least from the award-nominated Cecilia Noble), Nine Night is a contemporary drama executed with perfect skill, overseen by director Roy Alexander Weise. After a sell-out original run at the National, the show now comes to Trafalgar Studios, with Gordon becoming the first black British female playwright to have a play staged in the West End. She also leads the cast. Trafalgar Studios, 1 December to 9 February


Timon of Athens

Timon of Athens
© RSC, photo by Paul Stuart

Kathryn Hunter returns to the RSC to take on the titular role in this new revival of Shakespeare's comic tragedy – one of his lesser known works perhaps, but in the hands of director Simon Godwin (who recently helmed the five-star National Theatre production of Antony and Cleopatra) the show has a gritty contemporary twist. RST, 7 December to 22 February


The Wider Earth

The Wider Earth
© Mark Douet

Forget one old man with a white beard, here's another for the festive season! Origin of Species may not be your typical Christmas read, but this charming visual spectacle exploring the early years of Charles Darwin is a perfect family-friendly show. Attached to the Natural History Museum, the piece gives punters an opportunity to walk around Darwin exhibits and learn more about the iconic theoretician. Natural History Museum, until 30 December


Rocky Horror Show

Ben Adams (Brad), Joanne Clifton (Janet)

Trade turkey for time warps in a brand spanking new revival of The Rocky Horror Show, which kicks off a UK tour in December. The cult classic is back on the open road featuring a great cast including Duncan James, Joanne Clifton and Ben Adams. UK tour starts at Theatre Royal Brighton from 13 December


Richard II

Simon Russell Beale, fresh from his spell in The Lehman Trilogy portrays the fatally flawed monarch in Joe Hill-Gibbins' new production of Richard II which comes to the Almeida. Considering Hill-Gibbins' off-the-wall versions of Measure for Measure and A Midsummer Night's Dream, we have no idea what to expect...but it'll probably be as novel as that book you get for Christmas from your aunt. 10 December to 2 February

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