Festive Arts Roundup

Ho ho ho! Christmas comes but once a year, so to help you get the most out of the festive season, here’s arts editor Dan Cooper-Gavin with the essential Brum Notes guide to what’s on across the city this Yuletide…

What better way to kick off the festive season than a trip on Birmingham’s magnificent Art Bus (December 3)? Hop on and off throughout the evening to enjoy special late-night openings at Ikon, the Barber Institute, the RBSA, Mac and Eastside Projects, with Christmassy refreshments to help you on your way. Check online for the bus timetable.

In other early-December treats, the Custard Factory will be taken over by festive-themed street art in the City of Colours Winter Showcase (December 6), featuring more than 30 local artists, a graffiti battle, DJs and a Christmas market with as many minced pies as you can handle. Claire-WainwrightAnd on the same day down in Edgbaston, it’s the opening of Mac’s famous Christmas Craft Markets (December 6-14), with a wide range of gift options to be found across nearly 100 stalls. Back in Digbeth, The Bond also hosts its own artisan festive market offering, with the Birmingham Winter Market (December 6) offering arts and gifts, DJs, pop-up cinema, cocktails, street food and craft ale.

Cultural connoisseurs rejoice, because Brum has plenty of excellent Christmas shows to choose from. The Old Joint Stock has two seasonal treats on offer – The Twelve Dates of Christmas (December 9-13) is an acclaimed feel-good play in which a woman seeks redemption after discovering her fiancé has been cheating, while there’s rather more spooky fare to be had in Ghost Stories For Christmas (December 17-18), which comes courtesy of local Victoriana enthusiasts Don’t Go Into The Cellar!.

Not to be missed at the Mac, Adam Kay – known for the x-rated musical parodies of his hugely successful Amateur Transplants project – comes to town for one night only with his one-man smut-fest Going for a Number One at Christmas (December 16).

The seasonal offering at The Drum in Aston this year comes in the shape of Uncle Ben’s Festive Block Party (December 18-21), in which grumpy old Ben decides to invite the neighbours round for a Christmas blow-out. Meanwhile, Wonderland comes to life at The Rep, with Alice, the March Hare and the Cheshire Cat inviting you to dance the night away at The Mad Hatter’s Christmas Party (December 18-20).

21 Dec A Christmas Carol Clive FrancisActor Clive Francis returns to the Town Hall to perform Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (December 21). The Town Hall was the scene of the first ever public reading of the story back in 1853, with Francis here recreating the occasion, embodying the famous characters and relating the events of over 160 years ago.

For a more irreverent take on Dickens, there are screenings of The Muppet Christmas Carol at the Mac (December 6) and The Electric Cinema (December 21). The Electric is also one of the venues carrying a special performance of The Nutcracker (December 21), screened live via satellite from Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre.

In Coventry, the Belgrade Theatre welcomes back Oh No It Isn’t! (December 6-27), a comedy thriller from local writer Nick Walker in which a pantomime’s cast find themselves embroiled in a plot to kill each other. And there’s more festive goriness at the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum, also in Coventry, in a tale from Middle English romance Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (December 16).

And no Christmas is complete without a performance of Twelfth Night. This year, Brum youth-theatre outfit Drama-Link oblige, with their take on Shakespeare’s unlikely love triangle playing at The Crescent Theatre (December 17-20).

There’s Christmas fun to be had for comedy fans too. The Blue Orange Theatre welcomes impro troupe Box of Frogs for special festive-themed show Impro-HO-HO! (December 5), while local hero Barbara Nice pitches up at the Mac to present her annual Christmas Cracker (December 12-13), complete with raffle and tombola. And The Old Joint Stock has a special Free Festive Funnies show (December 15), headlined by the acclaimed stand-up and writer Meryl O’Rourke.

If you prefer your Christmas as noisy as possible, then the Hare & Hounds is the place for you, as Supersonic and Milque & Muhle team up to present the Xmas Cocktail one-dayer (December 13). Amongst the acts spread across the venue’s two rooms are sludge merchants Palehorse, the euphoric rhythms of Sly & The Family Drone, unmistakable all-girl post-punkers Ravioli Me Away and blistering garage duo Table Scraps. Earplugs recommended. See our interview with Table Scraps for more.


Infinitely gentler but no less essential, Barnsley folkie Kate Rusby calls into the Symphony Hall (December 11). With her backing band replete with brass quintet, Kate and her unfeasibly dulcet tones will perform a set drawing heavily on her back catalogue of Christmas songs and carols.

And that’s just one part of an extraordinarily busy festive programme at the Symphony Hall. Amongst the other Christmas attractions on offer, there are performances of Handel’s Messiah by Ex Cathedra (December 7) and the City of Birmingham Choir (December 12), seasonal celebrations courtesy of The Salvation Army (December 14), and songs and readings compèred by comedian Hugh Dennis in CBSO Festive Favourites (December 19, 21, 22). Meanwhile, the Town Hall has seasonal performances from the Town Hall Gospel Choir (December 15) and the BBC Big Band (December 16).

15 Dec Town Hall Gospel Choir

There’s festive cheer to be had amidst the Georgian splendour of Handsworth’s Soho House, with the Christmas Delights tour (December 4, 11, 18) recalling celebrations in the 19th century. There are also special Carols events at Aston Hall (December 5), the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter (December 6) and Soho House (December 13). The Crescent Theatre present their annual Christmas Wassail evening of music, spoken word, comedy and, yes, mulled wine at Highbury Hall (December 8-9) and at the theatre itself (December 14-16), while at St Paul’s Church there are two further events courtesy of Ex Cathedra – Christmas Music By Candlelight (December 19, 20, 22, 23) and the family-friendly Angels, Stars & Kings (December 20).

And if all that is not enough…there’s always panto. Cruise-ship warbler Jane McDonald, boy-band favourite Duncan James and Coronation Street’s Chris Gascoyne are in action in Jack and the Beanstalk at the Hippodrome (from December 19), while over in Wolverhampton, Julian Clary and Hollyoaks’ Joe Tracini tread the boards in Cinderella (from December 6).


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