I was 15 when I went to the theatre for the first time, to a production of Beckett’s Happy Days at the newly opened Civic Theatre in Tallaght. Yeah, really. For most people, the Christmas pantomime is their first exposure to the footlights. I went to my first panto when I began working as a professional theatre critic, and it took me a while to appreciate the hammy political in-jokes, the over-stimulating soundtracks, the audience participation, and the glo-sticks, oh the glo-sticks! Trough sheer immersion over the years, I have become quite fond of the spectacular tackiness. But if you cannot convert yourself for the sake of the children, there are plenty of more sophisticated theatrical experiences on offer too.
As Christmas season swiftly approaches, here are my top five theatrical choices:
- Little Red Riding Hood: The Gaiety Theatre
The longest running panto in Ireland and without a doubt the best. The attention to detail, production design and professional cast lift it far above the frivolous pop-cultural reworking of the fairytale that has become the panto standard.
2) Jack and the Beanstalk: The Helix Theatre
TheatreWorx have only been producing panto for ten years, but they have quickly established themselves: the season is almost entirely sold out. Their affiliated theatre school provides an excellent young support ensemble without the standard precocity. Full marks for their Autism-friendly performances too.
3) Mary Poppins, Bord Gais Energy Theatre
Yes the tickets are ridiculously expensive, but Christmas comes only once a year, right? I actually saw this production in London before I had kids myself and it is INCREDIBLE! (No refunds if you disagree).
4) Elf Factory, Various Venues
About as far as you can get from a big budget musical, Elf Factory is a gentle and intimate show for very young children (2+). We saw it last year and were really impressed by the care taken over the young audience. Tour details can be found at http://www.littlebigtop.info/#/elf-factory-recruitment/4584554889
5) Little Light, Various Venues
A modern fable that draws inspiration from the beginning of time. Eschewing direct engagement with Christmas, Little Light presents the story of a young girl on a quest to free the sun from the all-encompassing winter darkness.