THE 2021 Christmas theatre season will be like no other. Following the pandemic-enforced hiatus of last year, Scotland’s theatres are looking forward to a return to live Yuletide entertainment with the eagerness of a trainee elf.

So, whether you’re heading off to a pantomime, a piece of Christmas family drama, the ballet or a comic musical for wee tots, it’s time to upload or print your Covid passports and get ready for the much-anticipated comeback of live festive theatre.

As one would expect, Scotland’s biggest playhouses are gearing up for traditional pantomimes that are full of glitz, big-name stars and audience participation – oh yes they are! Surely the nation’s biggest panto is at the King’s Theatre, Glasgow, where the doyen of pantomime Elaine C

Smith is joined by her trusty sidekick Johnny Mac in Cinderella (November 27 to January 2).

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The annual panto at the Clydeside playhouse has hosted some of the greatest names in Scottish theatre, from Stanley Baxter and Una McLean, to Rikki Fulton and Gerard Kelly. This year’s show promises to be as colourful and as full of music, dancing and gloriously silly jokes as ever.

Over on the east coast, the big stage pantomime at the King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, will be an emotional affair. Sleeping Beauty (November 27 to January 16) will be the great playhouse’s first Christmas show since the passing (in January of this year) of Andy Gray, the acclaimed comic actor and a much-loved regular in Auld Reekie’s favourite panto.

However, the show must, undeniably, go on, and this one keeps very much to Edinburgh King’s traditions. Midlothian’s uber-dame Allan Stewart and boo-hiss panto baddie Grant Stott are joined, once again, by Gray’s actor daughter Clare Gray and by the excellent comic foil Jordan Young.

Scottish pantomime is rightly proud of its music hall comedy traditions. Unlike in England, where, often, it is considered the height of panto comedy to cast a famous non-actor (such as boxer Frank Bruno) as the dame, in Caledonia the man in the frock really has to be able to perform.

That’s the case with Stewart in Edinburgh’s annual jamboree, and it’s certainly true of Alan McHugh, who has long been screaming “fit likeee” at enraptured audiences at His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen. McHugh, a great writer of Christmas shows, as well as an absolutely top-notch performer, once again dons (geddit?) the garish frocks and ludicrous make-up as he leads a fine cast (including the fabulous Joyce Falconer) in Beauty And The Beast (December 4 to January 2).

Nor is that the end of the list of Scotland’s great contemporary dames. Perth Theatre’s Cinderella (November 26 to December 31) boasts, in my opinion, the country’s leading dame in Barrie Hunter (who is also the writer and director of the Fair City’s pantomime).

Hunter will be joined by the impressive Ewan Somers as the pair play the, no doubt utterly boo-able, Ugly Sisters Bella and Ella. Meanwhile, young Scots-Colombian actor and singer Betty Valencia makes her Perth debut as Cinderella, while the fabulous Helen Logan returns in the evil baddie role as the Wicked Stepmother.

Head east from Perth, and you can enjoy yet another outstanding dame at the Byre Theatre, St Andrews. Always a hilarious joy, Alan Steele (playing Nellie Numpty, who else?) leads a talented cast in Jack And The Beanstalk (December 2 to 31). Written and directed by Gordon Barr, the show is another St Andrews pantomime from the team behind Glasgow’s Shakespeare festival Bard In The Botanics.

If panto isn’t your bag, Scotland’s stages are also bursting like a Santa sack full of seasonal family theatre productions. Edinburgh’s grand repertory theatre the Royal Lyceum offers Christmas Dinner (December 6 to January 2), a co-production between the Lyceum company and leading children’s theatre company Catherine Wheels.

In Robert Alan Evans’s play, a sad and shuttered theatre comes to life as a troupe of happy Christmas spirits emerge from the back of the costume cupboard, intent on bringing the playhouse back to joyful life. Directed by the superb Gill Robertson, this show promises to be a highly original festive treat.

Meanwhile, in Glasgow, the Citizens Theatre Company (playing at the Tramway venue, as its Gorbals home is still closed for its massive redevelopment) reprises its critically acclaimed production of Dickens’s evergreen Christmas tale A Christmas Carol (December 3 to 24). A stylish staging by the Citz’s director Dominic Hill, it, once again, stars the brilliant Benny Young as the dour skinflint Ebenezer Scrooge.

There’s another, new production of Dickens’s tale at Dundee Rep. This staging of A Christmas Carol (November 27 to December 31), performed by the Rep’s permanent ensemble of actors, will boast a score by musical theatre specialists Noisemaker and choreography by Joan Clevillé, artistic director of the Rep’s sister company Scottish Dance Theatre. Written by Scott Gilmour and Claire McKenzie of Noisemaker, with musical direction by Isaac Savage, the production is directed by the Rep’s artistic director Andrew Panton.

No Scottish Christmas theatre schedule is complete without a show written by the irrepressible Johnny McKnight. Both a writer and performer, McKnight has been a spectacular dame at both the Tron Theatre, Glasgow, and the MacRobert Arts Centre, Stirling, over many years.

This Christmas the frocks stay in the wardrobe, while McKnight takes on purely writing duties as the author of the Tron’s delightfully named festive show Olive The Other Reindeer (December 14 to 24). Outraged to discover that Santa keeps a naughty list that excludes certain weans from getting Christmas presents, Olive sets off on a mission to challenge the injustice.

Designed for children aged 12 and under and their families, directed and designed by the excellent Kenny Miller (no, not the ex-footballer!), the production stars the ever-tremendous Julie Wilson Nimmo in the title role.

If you’re looking for Christmas theatre for younger children, look no further than Mister MacNeep Has Lost His Sheep (Scottish Opera Studios, December 4 to 19). A revival of Scottish Opera’s celebrated show for three to seven-year-olds, it is a lovely, gentle and humorous production.

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Brimming over with great songs and music, gorgeous puppets and plenty of opportunities for audience participation, the show invites little theatregoers to help the titular farmer find his wayward flock. Mister MacNeep is great family fun, and there isn’t an aria in sight.

Also for wee ones (aged five and under), the MacRobert, Stirling offers Is That You Santa? (November 30 to December 24). Written and directed by Jennifer Dick (of Bard In The Botanics fame), the show tells the story of Small, a super-excited little child whose inability to get to sleep on Christmas Eve threatens to keep Santa away. Will Small (they/them), who doesn’t want a gender-specific pronoun for Christmas, ever get to sleep?

Finally, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a glorious production from Scottish Ballet. Artistic director Christopher Hampson’s staging of The Nutcracker (touring December 1 to February 12), in its original choreography by Scottish Ballet’s founder Peter Darrell, is absolutely worthy of a revival.

The show boasts exceptional dancing, soaring music by Tchaikovsky and sets and costumes that would put the Queen’s Christmas tree to shame. Beginning its revival at the Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, it is a truly splendid seasonal ballet.