Christmas Showtime; Posh Panto: Joanna Page and Gareth Gates Arrghh: Keith Allen in Treasure Island A Pucker Performance: Clive Rowe Is Mother Goose at Hackney Empire Traditional Taster: The Royal Ballets Nutcracker Returns to Covent Garden Classic Carols: The Sixteen and Harry Christophers Vegas-Style: Elton John Is at the O2

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ASSUMING you've been even vaguely sentient for the last few weeks, you might be forgiven for thinking that Christmas had been cancelled.

With repossessions soaring and high street sales plummeting, the December outlook looked emptier than Ebeneezer Scrooge's Christmas card list. But there's one area of the capital's life where the yuletide spirit continues to glow undimmed the arts.

Gone are the days when the only family entertainment on offer was a nakedly commercial panto and an over-familiar

Nutcracker (although traditionalists will be glad to note that both those old stalwarts can be seen again this year).

Christmas shows now range from the visually inventive Amazonia at the Young Vic, to Dickens in Kingston and The Little Prince in Hampstead. Dance embraces not just the Nutcracker but also Matthew Bourne's Edward Scissorhands and Will Tuckett's Thief of Baghdad. There are Christmassy operas and carol concerts but also seasonal singalongs from the likes of The Pogues and Slade.

If we are to spend our way out of this recession and celebrate the true spirit of Christmas, what better way than getting the family away from the telly and the turkey, to enjoy the communal experience of live performance. There is so much on offer, you really have no excuse. Oh no you don't &

THE NUTCRACKER 15 Dec-10 Jan, The Royal Ballet at Covent Garden (020 7304 4000, Tiny tots with traditional tastes should head to the Opera House to see The Royal Ballet's Nutcracker. The sets are a magical realm, the dancing tip-top and the production doesn't do anything wacky with the plot.

Children are often heard stifling sobs at Tchaikovsky's sweet melodies and the prettiness of the second act.

CINDERELLA 5 Dec-18 Jan, New Wimbledon Theatre (0870 060 6646, www. The poshest panto in town this year has Joanna "Gavin and Stacey" Page trying to win the heart of Gareth Gates's Prince Charming, while Alistair McGowan as Baron Hardup looks on and possibly adds a few impersonations..

MATTHEW BOURNE'S EDWARD SCISSORHANDS Until 18 Jan, Sadler's Wells (0844 412 4300, Dancing topiary is the highlight of Matthew Bourne's stage adaptation of Tim Burton's dark fantasy classic about the boy with scissors for hands.

The underlying idea is that we harm the thing we love, although Bourne focuses on colourful fun, with bright sets, larky moves, and some great costumes and sets designed by Lez Brotherston.

CHRISTMAS MUSIC FROM THE LPO 20 Dec, Wigmore Hall (020 7935 2141, Members of the London Philharmonic Choir and Brass Ensemble under Neville Creed present yuletide music for voices and brass: from Byrd and Gabrieli to John Rutter (The Twelve Days of Christmas), taking in Cornelius's Three Kings and Poulenc's Christmas Motets on the way.

JINGLE BELL BALL 10 Dec, O2 Arena (0871 984 0002, Capital FM's Christmas road show is an extensive roll call of the year's pop highlights, all playing sets so short that no one should outstay their welcome. Among the confirmed attendees are The Pussycat Dolls, Rihanna, Will Young, Sugababes, Lemar and Boyzone. A must-see for all the kids in the flashing bunny ears..

AMAZONIA 27 Nov-24 Jan, Young Vic (020 7922 2922, The Young Vic can always be relied upon for something a little different during the festive family frenzy, and this year the main house will be transformed into an enchanted rainforest for a piece inspired by traditional Brazilian myths and legends.

MANON 2-10 January, English National Ballet at the Coliseum (0871 911 0200, www. After decades of so-so Christmas Nutcrackers, ENB at last gets to dance a grown-up ballet. Manon is a bracing story of sex, money and moral corruption with the beautiful young Manon trading her looks for diamond finery. …


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