Christmas Pantos:
Going to the Panto is an Irish Christmas tradition, up there with watching the Late Late Toy Show and writing your letter to Santa. Every year there are dozens of productions taking place across the country, in venues ranging from small, local community centres to big national theatres. For many children, the Panto is the first time they go to the theatre and it can leave a lasting impression. Here's our pick of some of the biggest productions that are going on , but make sure you check out and support your local production too.

The Improvised Panto - Cork Opera House, Cork
This is one for older audiences; there is no script or no preparation, just a team of actors who will create a different show each night based on the audience suggestions and requests. You never know what you're going to get, but the more you contribute, the wilder it will be. For younger audiences, or those who prefer a more traditional Panto experience, the Opera House also has a production of Beauty and the Beast running from the 10th of December until the 17th of January.

Little Red Riding Hood - Gaiety Theatre, Dublin
The Gaiety have put on a Christmas panto every year since 1873, and with that much experience behind them, they know how to put on a great show. This year their show is Little Red Riding Hood with a cast that includes pantomime veteran Joe Conlan, playing a character named The Notorious Granny McGregor. It's the perfect addition to a Christmas trip to Dublin.

Freezin': The Story of the Snow Queen - Olympia Theatre, Dublin
Irish comedian Al Porter takes a starring role in this year's Olympia Panto, which he has also co-written. He'll be playing the pantomime dame Lolly Polly, alongside Dustin the Turkey and Ryan Andrews of Fair City fame. There will also be the usual cast of dancers filling out the stage and entertaining the crowds.

Sleeping Beauty - University Concert Hall, Limerick
Keith Duffy and George McMahon are the big names lined for this year's UCH Panto, which is always a huge success. Expect elaborate sets, wonderful costumes and jokes, music and dancing which will keep you smiling until the New Year. There is also a sensory-friendly performance taking place on the 23rd of December, which tailors all the fun of the panto to children with special needs.

Jack and the Beanstalk - Town Hall Theatre, Galway
The Renmore Pantomime group return for a 37th year, with a production of Jack and the Beanstalk in the Town Hall Theatre in Galway. It's been specially scripted to include some new twists and turns, so even Panto veterans will have something unexpected to look forward to. There will be a special sensory performance on January 3rd for children and families with special needs.

Sleeping Beauty - The Theatre Royal, Waterford
Sleeping Beauty was also chosen by the Theatre Royal in Waterford as their 2015 production. The Waterford Panto society is celebrating their 30th year in operation this Christmas season, so expect an all-out production to mark the occasion.

Panto Alternatives:
Pantos are not everyone's cup of tea and for those who enjoy a seasonal trip to the theatre, but couldn't bear another round of "Look Behind You!!", there is still plenty on offer. There is a variety of classic theatre and Christmas favourites taking place all over the country for you to choose from.

The Importance of Being Earnest - The Gate Theatre, Dublin
Have a wonderful night laughing at Oscar Wilde's satirical wit, with this production directed by Patrick Mason. One of Wilde's best known works, it centres on the double lives created by the protagonists, and the consequences of their lies. The show runs until the end of January, so would make a great Christmas present too.

Mary Poppins - Bord Gais Energy Theatre, Dublin
Mary Poppins is a favourite Christmas film in many households, so the stage version is the perfect fit for this time of year. It's the first time the award-winning musical version has come to Ireland, but it has all the familiar songs we all grew up with. This would make the perfect extended family evening out, with something to appeal to every generation.

You Never Can Tell - The Abbey Theatre, Dublin
The Abbey have also chosen to show off one of Ireland's great writing talents this winter, with George Bernard Shaw's You Never Can Tell. It's the story of a woman who returns to England to start a new life with her children, but things don't quite go to plan. As with The Importance of Being Earnest, this runs into the New Year so tickets would make an excellent Christmas present.

The Snowman - National Concert Hall, Dublin
Raymond Briggs' film The Snowman is a magical childhood favourite, and the National Concert Hall manage to make it even more magical by screening the film with a live orchestra performing the score. Actor Simon Delaney will be acting as narrator for the performances, which take place between the 18th and 20th of December.

A Christmas Carol - Cork Arts Theatre, Cork
Dickens' Christmas classic comes to life on the stage of the Cork Arts Theatre, between the 15th and 19th of December. In front of your eyes, Scrooge will be visited by three ghosts, who will attempt to teach him the true meaning of Christmas. For anyone who knows the story, it will be great opportunity to see a live performance and a wonderful build up to Christmas.

Rudey's Christmas Adventure - National Opera House, Wexford
Rudey the Elf has been sent on a mission to find Santa's sleigh, which is missing in Christmas Tree Woods. Santa needs the sleigh for delivering presents, so Rudey will need all the help he can get to find it quickly. This is a show that younger kids will love, and will make a fun day out for any nieces, nephews, children or godchildren. It runs from the 9th to the 12th of December.

How Now Mrs. Brown's Cow - 3 Arena, Dublin
For the past few years, the Mrs. Brown's Boys Christmas special has drawn in millions of TV viewers. Now is your chance to see it live, as Brendan O'Carroll and crew take over the 3 Arena between the 15th and 19th of December. If you love the TV show, you'll love this.

Ballet Ireland's Coppelia - Various Venues
Throughout December, Ballet Ireland will continue their tour of the county, bringing Coppelia to venues including Glor in Ennis and the Backstage Theatre in Longford. Coppelia is a comedic ballet, telling the story of a life like doll who captures the attention of a young man named Franz. It is a must see for any aspiring ballerina, or for any ballet fans.

Handel's Messiah - Various Venues
Handel's Messiah is a big, dramatic, celebratory work which is great for getting people in the Christmas spirit. Part I, often known as the Christmas portion, is particularly popular at this time of year. There are several performances of the Messiah happening across the country this month, with the Irish Baroque Orchestra visiting Drogheda, Dublin and Galway, while the RTE Concert orchestra will be performing in the National Concert Hall.

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