Triple Treating

It’s that time of year when you start stocking up on earplugs if, like a few of us, you’ve heard the standard Xmas fare just too often. But hey, we need a bit of festivity and excitement to cheer us all up, and it’s not as if there’s nothing out there except Messiah: here are three of the best alternatives.

1. This weekend only — at JDCMB favourite venue Riverside Studios, Hammersmith — catch the doughty W11 Opera in Rain Dance, a brand-new creation by composer Stuart Hancock and author Donald Sturrock on an original story by Tish Farrell, performed entirely by 9-18 year-olds. If you haven’t met W11 Opera before, you need to go and do so, because they’ve been creating terrific new works with fabulous artists for school-age kids for an astonishing 38 years. More power to their elbows! This show looks enticingly positioned somewhere between The Lion King, Animal Farm and the White House…

2. I’m walking on air after seeing Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella, presented by New Adventures at Sadler’s Wells (runs through January, then goes to Nottingham). Bourne’s reinterpretations of ballet classics reach parts that others don’t. Dance can be as vibrant a medium for storytelling as words — and Bourne’s very adult Cinderella plays out like a rich, well-characterised film, pulling you in and bringing out all the dark underlying veins in Prokofiev’s music, which is key to the whole thing. Set in London during the Blitz, centring on the bombing of the Cafe de Paris, it could scarcely suit the music’s tense, sweet and sour imagination better.

The score was, indeed, written during the Second World War, and it feels much more at home in this roller-coaster tale than it does in the super-classical version by Frederick Ashton (though I adore that too). And if you love old movies, you won’t miss the plethora of affectionate references, which encompass David Niven in A Matter of Life and Death, Bette Davis in Now, Voyager, a thoroughly evil version of Joan Crawford, a bit of Waterloo Road and a finale with shades of Brief Encounter. I’ve been wondering, ever since I saw Bourne’s Swan Lake for the first time, why more dance companies do not embrace this sort of work. Quite simply, it has everything.

There can be few of us, even today, who are untouched by the history of the Blitz. I spent much of the evening thinking of my late favourite aunt-in-law, whose first husband was an RAF pilot (like Cinderella’s hero, Harry) and was killed on the last day of the Battle of Britain. The show chimed with everything that, after a good G&T, she used to tell us about life then…

3. But if you do have to see The Nutcracker, English National Ballet has a new one on offer at the Coliseum from 10 December, staged by artistic director Wayne Eagling. Here he is explaining his vision for it, and further video updates are promised in due course.

Here’s hoping the celestas up and down the country will hold their tuning during the cold snap.

Underrated: Abroad

The ravenous longing for the infinite possibilities of “otherwhere”

The king of cakes

"Yuletide revels were designed to see you through the dark days — and how dark they seem today"