10 shows to catch if you're trying to avoid Christmas

The most wonderful time of year isn’t for everyone

Damian Buhagiar, Richard Appiah-Sarpong, Jonathan Hermosa-Lopez and Dominic Sibanda in West Side Story rehearsals at the Curve
Damian Buhagiar, Richard Appiah-Sarpong, Jonathan Hermosa-Lopez and Dominic Sibanda in West Side Story rehearsals at the Curve
© Ellie Kurttz

Bah Humbug! The festive season is coming around once again – lights are being switched on, Christmas markets are popping up in cities across the country and black Friday is looming just over the horizon with its devilishly tantalising discounts.

But what if the holiday season just isn't your thing? What if you'd rather have a normal glass of wine instead of the mulled alternative? What if your idea of hell is jolly old Saint Nicholas, or a panto dame shouting "oh no he didn't", or any mention of 'the most wonderful time of the year' at all? Well, check out these sobering shows instead – we promise not even a glimpse of tinsel will be seen.

1. The Duchess of Malfi

She's back at the Almeida after the success of Olivier Award-winning Summer and Smoke and now Rebecca Frecknall is in charge of John Webster's The Duchess of Malfi. A revenge tragedy about the the fateful marriage of duchess Giovanna d'Aragona and the scheming plots of those in the court around her, Lydia Wilson steps into the ranking role for this run. Playing at the Almeida Theatre from 30 November to 25 January.

Outside the theatre after the first performance of Dear Evan Hansen in the West End
Outside the theatre after the first performance of Dear Evan Hansen in the West End
© Matt Crockett

2. Dear Evan Hansen

By all accounts, Sam Tutty is the star of Dear Evan Hansen in the West End this year. The show proved so popular that it extended its run before it even opened for previews. And as a musical around teenage social anxiety, it carries an important and uplifting message despite dealing with a difficult mental health subject. Playing at the Noël Coward Theatre and currently booking until 2 May.

3. My Cousin Rachel

Nothing says the festive season like a Gothic romance set on the Cornish coast about a murderess, seducer, thief and enchantress – especially when Call The Midwife's Helen George is in the title role. Daphne du Maurier's novel was turned into a film starring Rachel Weisz in 2017 and Joseph O'Connor has adapted the story for this UK tour. Currently on tour playing at Theatre Royal Bath until 23 November, Eden Court Inverness from 26 to 30 November and Malvern Theatres from 3 to 7 December.

4. West Side Story

They're our guest editors of WhatsOnStage this week and artistic director Nikolai Foster is deep in rehearsals for the Curve's winter production – West Side Story, a Romeo and Juliet story updated for New York by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim. This production stars Adriana Ivelisse (Maria), Carly Mercedes-Dyer (Anita), Jamie Muscato (Tony), Jonathan Hermosa-Lopez (Bernardo) and Ronan Burns (Riff). Playing at the Curve Theatre Leicester from 23 November 2019 to 11 January.

Josh Williams and Angus Yellowlees in Touching The Void
Josh Williams and Angus Yellowlees in Touching The Void
© Michael Wharley

5. Touching The Void

This thriller sold out at its world premiere in 2018, and now it's transferred to the West End's Duke of York's Theatre. David Greig has adapted the best-selling memoir, which charts the real-life story of Joe Simpson and Simon Yates' struggle for survival on the perilous Siula Grande mountain in the Peruvian Andes. It may be directed by Tom Morris of War Horse fame but this is certainly no puppet show. Playing at the Duke of York's Theatre until 29 February.

6. Guys and Dolls

Alex Young, Kadiff Kirwan and Natalie Casey, all starring in this revival? What more could you want from a Guys and Dolls! Sheffield Theatres artistic director Robert Hastie takes the helm on this one, with classic songs like "Luck be a Lady" and "Sit Down, You're Rocking the Boat". Playing at Sheffield Crucible from 7 December to 18 January.

Guys and Dolls at Sheffield Crucible
Guys and Dolls at Sheffield Crucible

7. Ravens: Spassky vs. Fischer

A cold-hearted chess match during the Cold War, it's the USA vs. the USSR in Tom Morton-Smith's play. The 1972 Reykjavik battle between two grandmasters became an iconic allegory for the political climate at large, with Ronan Raftery (who plays Boris Spassky) and Robert Emms (who plays Bobby Fischer) at the Hampstead Theatre this winter. Playing at the Hampstead Theatre from 29 November to 18 January.

8. Ghost Quartet

Dave Malloy is churning out musical hits including the Tony Awards-nominated Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 on Broadway and the four-star Preludes, which played at the Southwark Playhouse earlier this autumn. Ghost Quartet is the opening show at the new in-the-round Boulevard Theatre in Soho, a musical song cycle about stories themselves – how we tell them, how we hear them, and how they evolve, intertwine and draw us in. Playing at the Boulevard Theatre until 4 January.

Maimuna Memon and Niccolò Curradi
Maimuna Memon and Niccolò Curradi in Ghost Quartet
© Marc Brenner

9. I Can Go Anywhere

A disillusioned academic tries to cope after a painful break-up. He wrote a very unfashionable book on youth movements in Britain and is now confronted with Jimmy, seeking asylum in the UK with "a brilliant plan" to ensure he passes the interview. Sound Christmassy enough? Douglas Maxwell's play is directed by Eve Nicol this winter, a call to arms for togetherness in a increasingly isolated world. Playing at the Traverse Theatre from 7 to 21 December.

10. Gypsy

Momma Rose is back and she means business. It's Ria Jones' turn in this production, as takes to the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester stage this winter to star in the musical about American burlesque entertainer Gypsy Rose Lee – played in this production by Melissa James. And we're sure it'll be great. Playing at Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester from 30 November to 25 January.