The Misanthrope, London
A pre-Christmas treat if you're not inclined to panto or seasonal offerings is a new production of Molière's The Misanthrope. It brings Hollywood darling Keira Knightley to the London stage, where she plays a pushy American actress and social butterfly, so her LA experience should come in handy. Martin Crimp's version of the 1666 original, you see, has been updated from 17th-century Paris to modern-day London, where Alceste, the curmudgeon of the title, is a British playwright fed up with the shallowness of contemporary society, until he falls for the American, Jennifer. As Alceste, Damian Lewis leads an impressive cast that also includes Tara Fitzgerald and Nicholas Le Prevost. Direction is by Thea Sharrock, whose production Pains Of Youth is running at the National.
Comedy Theatre, SW1, Mon to 13 Mar
Arabian Nights, Stratford upon Avon
Over a decade on from its Young Vic premiere, Dominic Cooke revisits his version of the Arabian Nights, a production that did much to sweep away the divide between shows for children and shows for adults, while paving the way for hits such as Coram Boy and War Horse. Theatre has changed a great deal since it was first staged, so expect more movement (from Liz Ranken, part of the original team) and puppetry in a show that celebrates the transforming power of storytelling. Framed by the story of a king so wounded by his first wife's infidelity that he murders his subsequent brides after the wedding night, it shows how a clever young woman saves her own life and heals the wound simply by telling stories. But they are exceptionally good ones, about Ali Baba, Sinbad, the Little Beggar and Abu-Hassan and his terrible wind.
Courtyard Theatre, Sat to 30 Jan
Peter Pan: A Musical, Leicester
The Curve offers a musical premiere this Christmas of JM Barrie's exhilarating but essentially tragic story of the boy who refuses to grow up. Paul Miller and David Taylor, who are responsible for the book, have returned to the novel to create their version, with songs by composer and lyricist Julian Ronnie. The question always asked about Peter Pan isâ€š "Will there be flying?" Apparently there will be, but the real test of any Peter Pan is whether it makes you cry.
Curve, to 23 Jan
Morecambe, Cambridge, London
It's hard to imagine anything on TV being watched by 28 million viewers, but back in 1977, the Morecambe And Wise Christmas Show managed just that. So, a nostalgia trip for comedy fans in Morecambe, a one-man biographical play about Eric Morecambe, some 25 years after his death. Written by Tim Whitnall, it's performed by Bob Golding (with an extraordinary resemblance to the man himself).
Mumford Theatre, Cambridge, Sat; Duchess Theatre, WC2, Wed to 17 Jan
Grimm Tales, Manchester
The Young Vic's tentacles spread far and wide at this time of year. Not only is Dominic Cooke's Arabian Nights being revived at the RSC, but Carol Ann Duffy's Grimm Tales, first staged by Tim Supple in the Waterloo theatre, is getting an outing both at the Library in Manchester and at the Theatre By The Lake (including versions of Hansel And Gretel, Cinderella and Beauty And The Beast) in Keswick. At the Library, it is Rachel O'Riordan who is at the helm to squeeze every ounce of mischief and scariness from tales such as Hansel And Gretel, Iron Hans, The Golden Goose and Ashputtel. The great thing about Duffy's versions is that they come completely unsanitised and return to the earthy original oral tradition of the stories, which is a world away from Disneyfied versions. They can be on the dark side but they're immensely satisfying too, like a really good plum pudding.
Library Theatre, Sat to 23 Jan
No Christmas is complete without a revival of George Stiles and Anthony Drewe's musical inspired by Hans Christian Andersen's Ugly Duckling. Andersen was writing about himself when he penned the tale about the duckling who honks rather than quacks and is reviled by all the other ducklings because they think him so ugly, but who, of course, eventually turns out to be a swan. Stiles and Drewe remove all traces of the darkness, however, to create a charming farmyard frolic that pre-dates their contribution to the more recent revival of Mary Poppins. It's full of great tunes and a memorable cast of anthropomorphic animals as poor little Ugly is lured away from his smug siblings by the hungry cat who wants a tasty feathered titbit. Done well, it's a show that can send audiences quackers with delight.
Royal Theatre, to 3 Jan
Dick Whittington, Liverpool
Are the streets paved with gold? Will Dick become Lord Mayor? Will King Rat be defeated? All will be answered as the Everyman's rock'n'roll-style panto returns for another year. Mind you, the plot line involving ancient Egyptian tombs and goddess cats sounds a bit like something out of Raiders Of The Lost Ark rather than the book of fairytales, but no doubt Fairy Lights will sort it all out with a wave of her magic wand and there will be hits from the Beatles, Tom Jones, Michael Jackson and Beyoncé to ensure this all slips down in toe-tapping style.
Everyman Theatre, to 23 Jan
Ali Baba And The Forty Thieves, Bristol
Bristol Old Vic may have Kneehigh's Hansel And Gretel running over the holiday season, but you shouldn't overlook the Tobacco Factory, which has a superlative record in creating Christmas hits. Travelling Light's Sally Cookson joins forces with designer Katie Sykes (responsible for last year's A Christmas Carol) to tell the story of two brothers, one rich and one poor, whose lives are changed when a secret is uncovered. There is only a cast of six in this production, so there's going to have to be some ingenuity to portray all 40 thieves. That shouldn't be a problem for Cookson, though, who has already successfully staged shows including the delightful We're Going On A Bear Hunt at the Bristol Old Vic. Disobedient donkeys, acts of heroism, and cold-blooded murderers are all part ofthe plot in a festive show that should be a little bit different.
Tobacco Factory Theatre, Tue to 17 Jan
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Guardian: This week's theatre previews
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