London for Theatre Lovers
April 26 2016
We all love it. Somehow, the United Kingdom is – for us – full of stories and plots, evil kings, envious sisters, and dramatic Royal scandals. I’m mostly talking about Shakespeare here, who, this year, is being commemorated 400 years after his death. Indeed, London is a synonym for Shakespeare, for art and theatre, and for its West End musicals. There are few cities in the world as brilliant for theatre lovers as London, but finding your way about London’s theatre scene can be tricky. Oh, and don’t use the American word theater here!
So, I’ve put together my top five secrets about London and why is still cool after Shakespeare.
See Shakespeare at the The Globe
Located in the Southbank, The Globe Theatre is the original theatre where Shakespeare plays were performed. Well, not exactly: The original Globe burned down in 1613, three years before Shakespeare died, and what we now have is a modern reconstruction, named Shakespeare’s Globe, which opened in 1997.
Anyway, for theatre you need imagination. And this means: Imagine Shakespeare’s Globe is older than it looks. The Globe offers audiences high-quality performances, mostly the comedies and the tragedies written by Shakespeare; but other well-selected playwrights and performances are included in their lineup. The Globe’s theatre season runs from spring to late summer; and for only five pounds, you can stand in the yard and enjoy a great show. (Seriously, that is cheaper the Asian noodles around Piccadilly!) If you have some extra pounds and the murders and treason make you hungry, you can order food in their restaurant before the show starts and they’ll have it ready during the intermission. Seated places are available, but don’t forget that you’re in London, and that means “prices are always up.”
Read Theatre Literature from Samuel French
A small, cozy, friendly space near Warren Street is the home of the Samuel French bookstore. This place isn’t like your regular bookstore, because everything here is related to theatre and performance. You’ll almost certainly find the play you’ve been looking for, or compilations of plays by your favorite playwrights.
Technical information books are also available, including – for example – how to manage a theatre, corporal expression for authors, or how to write about theatre. (Let the critic inside of you start a brand new blog.) You’ll also find the text of plays currently in production at London’s theatres. Some local theatres also sell plays for cheaper prices, and a similar bookstore, located inside the National Theatre in Southbank, has a great collection of books and texts. However, my heart and my soul prefer the cozy and more diverse Samuel French.
Visit the Pub Theatres
Yes, I know, we all love Book of Mormon and Wicked and the great spectacle of loud singers, colorful dancers, and bright lights. But sometimes, you need to give a chance to other alternative, smaller, hidden venues. Welcome to the universe of pub theatres in London. There are hundreds of them, and they’re all so unique.
I had a great evening once in The Hens & Chicken. Another time at the King’s Head Theatre, tickets were condoms rather than ticket stubs. One of my favorites, near Battersea Park, is Theatre 503, with the great Latchmere Bar and Restaurant downstairs. These small venues offer the work of contemporary, emerging playwrights; but also regularly play neglected classics from some of the best playwrights in the world, like Arthur Miller and his very first play, No Villain.
The best thing about pub theatres is that you’re supporting small theatre companies, which are in a constant struggle to find money for producing new shows and showcasing new talent. Prices are on average around 15 to 20 pounds, which is really cheap if you consider that seeing Matthew Perry’s new West End play can cost you up to 200 pounds.
Take a Chance with LGTBI Theatre
I mean, what do you call gay theatre? If a play has a gay character is that immediately gay theatre? I don’t think so. What I love about London is that gay art is both serious and professional, while maintaining the “queerness” essential to being a minority. So, London, both in pub theatres and the big West End venues, is a dominant place for reflecting on queer and gender politics. Shows like Four Play, Five Guys Chilling, and many others are a reflection on the modern struggles – both political and emotional – of diverse characters.
London is a really diverse city, and sometimes, this difference is overlooked in both casting process and productions. But, I personally love shows where I can identify with the characters because of shared experiences and culture. London’s growing trend for LGBTI plays runs the full gamut – from comedy to tragedy, cabaret to homoerotic, hypersexual transsexual, queer transgressive plots. Get rid of labels, girl.
Don’t Miss the West End
As international and relevant as Broadway, the West End is both serious and spectacular. If you’ve ever watched Miss Saigon, you can agree that the romantic plot hides a really deep political commentary. London’s West End has a lot of stories to choose from, from Disney’s Lion King to the controversial Book of Mormon.
While some shows are musicals, many others are classic theatre in the strict way: Chekhov, Shakespeare, or Ibsen. Just take a ride on the London tube and keep an eye out for the frequent ads for West End theatre. Getting tickets is sometimes a challenge, but the discount offices around Leicester Square will have same-day tickets for many of the most popular shows. But for newer shows, there’s a huge demand (for example, the upcoming Harry Potter and the Cursed Child), so it’s recommended to book and plan in advance. Pro tip: keep an eye out for the matinee performances for cheaper tickets!
Have you ever experienced theatre in London? What’d you think? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!