Zoe Wanamaker
(© Joseph Marzullo/Retna)
Zoe Wanamaker
(© Joseph Marzullo/Retna)
The National has reunited top-drawer thespians Simon Russell Beale and Zoe Wanamaker to swap insults with each other in William Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing (Olivier Theatre, December 10-March 29). Of all the Benedick-Beatrice pairings over the ages, this has got to be one of the most choice. Company artistic director Nicholas Hytner directs a cast of worthies that also includes Oliver Ford Davies, Julian Wadham, and Trevor Peacock.

Another revival warming up the town is Patrick Marber's Dealer's Choice, which only recently opened at the hot-hot Menier Chocolate Factory south of the Thames and proved to be wowee enough to be transferred to the West End's Trafalger Studios (December 6-March 29). There's another return to the West End of Alan Bennett's The History Boys, which become a contemporary classic the instant it opened only a few years back. It's back at Wyndham's (December 20-April 26), with Nicholas Hytner's original staging recreated by Paul Miller. Meanwhile, the revival of Shadowlands starring Charles Dance and Janie Dee, currently at Wyndham's, transfers to the Novello (beginning December 21).

Yet another hot ticket is the top-drawer-actor-studded revisit to Alan Ayckbourn's Absurd Person Singular at the Garrick (through March 22). It features the hilarious Jane Horrocks, and takes place, not so incidentally, on three successive Christmas eves.

The Chicago revival celebrates its 10th West End anniversary with previous headliners like Frances Ruffelle returning to celebrate the landmark occasion. Meanwhile, newly revived at the Menier Chocolate Factory is the Harvey Fierstein-Jerry Herman La Cage Aux Folles (through March 8), directed by Terry Johnson and featuring the accomplished Douglas Hodge and Philip Quast as the gay lovebirds preparing a wedding for their straight son.

Theater goers looking to immerse themselves in a typically jolly English Christmas will want to see a pantomime -- or panto, as the Brits clip it short. As usual, there are several available this season. The one likely to get the most immediate attention is Cinderella at the Old Vic (December 4-January 20). That's because polymath Stephen Fry, the author of any number of novels and essay collections, has written this version. Little question that the wry Fry will make the wordplay and physical play memorable. It stars Pauline Collins, who was the adorable Sarah in the great Upstairs Downstairs TV series.

Other pantos hither and yon include a couple interpretations of Dick Whittington, about the cat who looked at a king. One of these king-ogling cats will be perched at the Hackney Empire (December 1-January 1), while the other is in nearby Greenwich at the Greenwich Theatre (December 4-January 5). Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs will be in residence at the New Wimbledon (December 7-January 20), which is easily found at the westernmost end of the District line. At the Barbican is respected writer Jonathan Harvey's Jack and the Beanstalk (December 1-January 1). Not quite panto-like but decidedly puppet-like is the Melbourne comedy Men of Steel at the Soho (December 6-January 6), which is aimed at kids of all ages who like to laugh at foolishness.

Uppermost on many minds at this plum pudding time of year is The Nutcracker. There's the ultra-theatrical take that goes by the self-promoting title, Matthew Bourne's Nutcracker. It's at Sadler's Wells for the umpteenth time (December 13-January 20). A different balletic go at the warhorse can be found at the Royal Opera House (December 8-January 19).

Charles Dickens says seasonal cheer, of course, even if the production isn't A Christmas Carol -- of which there seem to be none this year. Instead, there's something just as all-encompassing: superlative playwright David Edgar's six-and-a-half hour story-theater adaptation of The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby Parts 1 & 2 (Gielgud Theatre, December 5-January 27). Abigail McKern, Jonathan Coy, David Yelland -- names to be reckoned with, if not household names stateside -- are in the large, hard-working cast.

Marianne Dreams (Almeida Theatre, December 13-January 19) is expressly crafted for the family Christmas crowd, and is based on Catherine Storr's novel of the same name as adapted by Moira Buffini. Will Tuckett directs and choreographs. Additionally, watch for Herge's Adventures of Tintin at the Playhouse (December 6-January 12), adapted by David Greig and the unusually creative Rufus Norris from the popular comic strip. Norris directs, and that's a true promise of something to see.