Our December 2019 Diary

by Alastair Hamilton -

As you’d expect, December’s diary has a traditional feel to it. Santa Claus? Check. Pantomime? Check. Christmas Party? Lots of them.

There’s always a pantomime in the Garrison Theatre and this year is no exception, with the story of Sleeping Beauty spun by Open Door Drama, one of several local groups that have presented great pantos over the years. It runs from the 3rd to the 14th and some nights sold out straight away. We are promised, among other delights, what may be the world’s first pantomime haggis.

Those in search of presents might profitably head to Weisdale and the Bonhoga Gallery, where This Winter – an exhibition of art and craft work from Shetland and the rest of the UK – will run until 22 December. There are other, similar opportunities, for example in the Carnegie Hall at Sandwick, where they’ll have a craft fair and market on the 1st.

Meanwhile, at the Shetland Museum, the remarkable Grayson Perry exhibition continues into January.

Shetland’s shops will rise to the Christmas challenge. Whilst the town has only a handful of national chains, there’s an excellent selection of independent shops offering things that you simply won’t find in the high streets of other towns and cities.

there’s an excellent selection of independent shops

Local products are very much in evidence, including crafts, knitwear, jewellery, books, chocolates, fudge, beer, gin and soap. But if you’re looking for, say, a camera, electronic equipment or a new bike, there’s no problem; and one of our larger stores has a particularly impressive selection of toys.

Christmas is always a popular time to visit the cinema. Naturally, there’s lots for younger viewers, including many more showings of Frozen II, which audiences have loved. Other crackers include The CBeebies Christmas Show; The Grinch, featuring Dr Seuss’ Christmas-hating grouch; the comedy classic, Elf; The Muppet Christmas Carol; and a new animated adventure, Polar Squad.

(Slightly) older cinephiles have plenty to enjoy, too. Helen Mirren and Ian McKellen star in a drama, The Good Liar.

Last Christmas (and yes, it does involve music from George Michael) stars Emilia Clarke, Henry Golding and Emma Thompson; and then there’s The Irishman, the much-praised crime drama with Robert de Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci.

December is a big month for Star Wars fans, with one-off showings of Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Star Wars: The Last Jedi as curtain-raisers for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, which opens at 00.01 on both screens on 19 December.

Mareel's two screens have always offered a brilliant blend: first-run films, classic and indie movies, and drama, opera and ballet from London's West End.

The classics this time include Bob Fosse's wonderful evocation of pre-war Berlin, Cabaret (1972) which made Liza Minnelli a star. There's also the evergreen It’s A Wonderful Life; and that French hymn to the musical tradition, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964).

Other features include Matthew Bourne’s Romeo and Juliet, from Sadler’s Wells in London, and a big event for lovers of Bruce Springsteen’s music, Western Stars, a concert movie to accompany his new album.

And those are just a few of the films showing in December: it really is a packed and very varied programme.

Mareel's two screens have always offered a brilliant blend

Among the other Christmas entertainments are a senior citizens' party and a quiz night in Lerwick’s Sound Hall, a cocktail night and a bairns’ party at the North Roe and Lochend Hall, and a festive spree in the Voe Hall. There will also, of course, be dozens of office and works parties, mostly around the middle of the month.

Once Christmas is over, the focus quickly shifts to Hogmanay, and a second round of parties. The hottest ticket among these will be Hogmanay at Mareel, which this year has the Kinnaris Quintet at the top of the bill. Folk Radio UK praised the band’s playing as:

"A fearless and unconventional exploration of traditional music as this powerhouse of a band takes Irish, Scottish, and Bluegrass by the hand and spins them into an album as unique and innovative as it is technically dazzling…"

Several local bands that embrace music ranging from trad jazz and swing to Americana will be there too, on what has become a glittering fixture in the Shetland calendar.

It’s a great way to say goodbye to the old year and ring in the new one.

And for those who don't go along to Mareel, 2020 will receive a traditional welcome around the tree at the Market Cross, accompanied by the sound of ships' horns in the harbour.

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