Answers from Our Experts (3)
When you think of London theatre, you automatically think of the West End. But although the area known as Theatreland is home to many fantastic playhouses – the Harold Pinter, the Duke of York's, the Noel Coward and the Donmar Warehouse are just a couple to look out for – there's much more to theatre in the capital than this relatively small area in the centre of town. (It's also the case that the West End tends to be better known for musical theatre rather than straight plays and I'm concerning myself with the latter in this article.)
Just across the river, the South Bank is home to the National Theatre, while next door in Bankside there's Shakespeare's Globe. Both theatres produce consistently outstanding work, with an increasing number of shows transferring to West End houses. The Old Vic and Young Vic in nearby Southwark also rarely disappoint.
Go a little further afield and you'll find top quality work being produced in smaller theatres all over town. The Royal Court in Sloane Square has been at the forefront of British drama for decades, the Tricycle in Kilburn has a reputation for hard-hitting political plays and the Almeida in Islington is a real local treasure.
A particular speciality of London theatre is plays staged in non-traditional spaces. From tiny rooms above pubs (the Finborough in Earl's Court) to converted industrial buildings (the Arcola in Dalston) to one-off, site-specific, immersive performances taking place in unexpected locations, there's plenty to keep the open-minded theatre-goer on her toes.
London is a culture vulture's nirvana, offering everything from world-class art exhibitions to spirit-lifting live music every week of the year. But it's in the theatrical arena that the British capital really excels. So here are three places to enjoy some of the best stage shows on earth.
The West End
When it comes to watching musical theater, there really is nowhere better than London's wonderful West End. The bigger brother of Broadway, 'Theatreland' has already given the world Les Misérables, The Phantom of the Opera, Cats, Mamma Mia!, We Will Rock You, Billy Elliot the Musical and more, and yet it continues to produce stunning new shows to delight its 14 million annual audience members. With more than 50 venues and dozens of different production showing at any one time, you're spoiled for choice.
The first Globe Theatre was built in 1599 by Shakespeare's theater company, and saw the premieres of some of his most famous plays. While the current incarnation is far removed from the first – both by age (it was built in 1997) and distance (it's located around 750 feet from the original) – this open-air wood-and-thatch venue remains one of the best places in the capital to watch a Shakespearean production. Unless it's raining, of course.
The Royal Opera House
Widely regarded as one of the greatest opera houses in the world – along with the Palais Garner, La Scala and, of course, the Met – this grand old Covent Garden venue exhibits a variety of exceptional operatic performances year-round, from long-established classics to provocative new works.
The best place to see a play is London – nowhere else comes close. Theatre is the lifeblood of the West End and there are dozens of theatres, practically one on every corner, with performances of everything from farce to melodrama, musical to thriller. Here's my pick of the best of what's on right now:
The Book of Mormon, Prince of Wales theatre
Just opened but already the most talked about show in town, the Book of Mormon is a hilarious comedy based on a religion we all think we know but actually don't. From the comedy genius that is Trey Parker and Matt Stone, creators of South Park.
Singin' in the Rain, Palace theatre
This show has been hailed, by punters and critics alike, as the ultimate feel-good night out. Brolly twirling, tinsel town glamour based on the hit film you must have seen. A massive tank of real water provides dazzling special effects, and the soaring tunes and stylish choreography will have you tapping your toes.
Matilda, Cambridge theatre
Fun for all the family, with a cast of truly amazing children who fill the stage with unbridled joy and some of the best choreography in the West End. From the mind of Tim Minchin – hilarious in all the right places.