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Bah humbug! Ten resolutely non-festive shows to see this Christmas

Sometimes you just need a break from the festive cheer

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David Tennant and Cush Jumbo in rehearsals for Macbeth, © Marc Brenner

Christmas might be the most wonderful time of the year, but sometimes the perfect remedy to all that carol-singing and panto-watching is a refreshingly dour time at the theatre. With that in mind – here are some seriously un-Christmassy shows for those who want something slightly less merry and bright.

Macbeth/Macbeth

MACBETH. Ralph Fiennes. Photo Matt Humphrey (3)
Ralph Fiennes, © Matt Humphrey

Productions of the Scottish Play feel about as numerous as those of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol this year, and we’ve got two starry versions across the nation to scratch that regicidal itch. Cush Jumbo and David Tennant will lead a binaural bonanza at the Donmar Warehouse, while up in Liverpool, Ralph Fiennes and Indira Varma are already garnering critical praise for their warehouse-set production. Donmar Warehouse, from 8 December to 10 February, and The Depot, Liverpool, until 20 December

Evita

Tyrone Huntley, Dan Partridge and Martha Kirby in a scene from Evita at Curve Leicester
Tyrone Huntley (as Che), Dan Partridge (as Magaldi) and Martha Kirby (as Eva Perón) in Evita, © Marc Brenner

What better way to avoid the festive cheer than to step into the world of Argentinian cults of personality and the ambiguous nature of power and fame? Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s classic is back in a new production helmed by director Nikolai Foster, and it’s already received a solid review from usCurve Leicester, until 13 January

The Enfield Haunting 

Noah Leggott (as Jimmy), Ella Schrey Yeats (as Janet) and Catherine Tate (as Peggy) in a scene from The Enfield Haunting
Noah Leggott, Ella Schrey Yeats and Catherine Tate, © Marc Brenner

Catherine Tate and David Threlfall team up for spooky thriller within the intimate confines of one of the smallest West End houses – the Ambassadors. Based on a true story, expect shocks and thrills from two of Britain’s finest performing talents. Ambassadors Theatre, until 2 March

Cold War

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Luke Thallon, Anya Chalotra and Elliot Levey, all photos supplied by the venue, centre © Matt Holyoak

The 2018 film Cold War might not seem like a natural fit for a musical, but the combined minds of Rupert Goold and Conor McPherson are set on bringing Paweł Pawlikowski’s lauded film to the stage in north London. Expect lots of big coats and lashings of Elvis Costello. If you want classy musical experiences, there’s also the new revival of Pacific Overtures at the Menier Chocolate Factory. Almeida Theatre, until 27 January 

The Turn of the Screw

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The Ustinov Studio in Bath, © Robert Hollingworth

Yes, it may be set around Christmas, but so is Die Hard – and that’s not a Christmas movie, so we’re counting this as non-festive. Benjamin Britten’s spooky take on Henry James’ novella will play within the confines of the Ustinov Studio, thematically miles away from its neighbour Theatre Royal Bath’s panto offering. The Ustinov under Deborah Warner has produced some excellent results, so this will likely continue said trend. Ustinov Studio, until 23 December 

The House of Bernarda Alba

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Harriet Walter (Bernarda Alba), Isis Hainsworth (Adela) and Eileen Nicholas (Maria Josefa) in The House of Bernarda Alba at the National Theatre © Marc Brenner

Truly the perfect fit for the festive season – a play about an oppressive matriach grappling with life in a systematically patriarchal Spanish world, sheltering her daughters to the point of imminent tragedy. Harriet Walter and Isis Hainsworth star, and yes, don’t expect festive cheer, but it’s had a hefty sprinkling of stars from critics already. National Theatre, until 6 January

The Homecoming/Ulster American

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Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson and Louisa Harland, © (left to right) Herry Schmitz, Wayne Maser and supplied by the production. All images supplied and distributed by the production

Look, being honest, London seems to have a hefty wad of dour, slightly melancholic plays on the go this winter, so we’re going to double these two up because that feels about right – at the Young Vic it’s a new production of Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming, while if you sail down the Thames to Hammersmith you can see Woody Harrelson, Andy Serkis and Louisa Harland tackling the gripping three-hander Ulster American. And if you want to get even more graphic, there’s always Stranger Things…. Young Vic, until 27 January and Riverside Studios, also until 27 January

The Woman in Black

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Mark Hawkins in The Woman in Black, © Tristram Kenton

While Christmas may involve many city-dwellers eager to escape the London fog and heading to remote parts of the country, that’s really where the festive similarities end for The Woman in Black, which is having a lovely Christmas season in Liverpool. The haunting thriller may have wrapped up its stint in the West End, but it’s still a bona fide classic and an all-round top-notch night out. Liverpool Playhouse, from 5 to 30 December, and then touring

Featured In This Story

The Homecoming

Closed: 27 January 2024

The Enfield Haunting

Final performance: 02 March 2024