London Theatre Visits

Top Tips on London Theatre Visits

the old vicOne of the biggest challenges I face as a theatre tour organiser is finding the time for the plethora of theatrical events available to the visitor to London.

There is no reason not to go to the theatre regularly, as here in London you can get theatre tickets at affordable prices. That may surprise some people gasping at the £100+ ticket cost of a West End show, but most theatres do deals, if you can find them.

Some keep a number of seats for sale on the day of the performance; some do last-minute deals. The Book of Mormon runs a sweepstake where you turn up at 10am and give them your name and if you are lucky you get a front row seat for £20. The National Theatre has an allocation of £15 tickets for every performance. And there’s the half-price ticket booth in Leicester Square run by the Society of London Theatre (SOLT) offering, yes, half price tickets for West End shows plus a small admin fee. There are also discounts available for most shows for groups of 8 or 10+.

There are online deals to be done but beware of some ticket agencies who, quite legitimately, charge a big mark-up on the face value of tickets. (For more on this, look at my blog.)

The National does a terrific backstage tour, bookable online or by phone (if you have a lot of time to spare). The Theatre Royal Drury Lane also does tours, conducted by actors, very entertainingly, although the last time I went it was largely spoiled by there being far too many people. The Globe Theatre on Bankside has year-round tours which include the theatre itself and, for a bit extra, their exhibition centre. In the winter while there are no performances you actually get to go onstage and spout, if such a thing takes your fancy.

There are other tours available of the Palladium, the Old Vic, the Opera House Covent Garden, the Royal Court and the Royal Albert Hall (see links below).

The New GlobeThe National and the Globe also hold talks, lectures and workshops, for students and others, as do companies such as Frantic Assembly and Complicité, from time to time. Earlier this year I visited the National’s costume hire warehouse in The Oval. A fascinating experience as you might expect, and they do a roaring trade around Halloween.

I also from time to time conduct a Shakespeare walk through the City and over the Millennium Bridge to Bankside. It’s a bit misleading perhaps to call it a Shakespeare walk as none of the buildings Shakespeare was directly connected with still exist, thanks partly to the Great Fire of London and Oliver Cromwell. (Under his commonwealth in the 17th century all the theatres were closed and subsequently demolished.) But it is interesting to pinpoint places he might have hung out, at the Blackfriars Theatre for instance, pubs he might have drunk at, cathedrals he probably worshipped in and the only house he ever owned in London (in Blackfriars).

'The Theatre' July 2012

‘The Theatre, hidden behind hoardings

Since the foundations of the Elizabethan Rose Theatre were discovered in 1989 in Southwark there’s been a new awareness of the importance of our archeological heritage. Now I believe if a building is being demolished in an area of London of historical significance, archaeologists from the Museum of London move in to check the foundations before any new buildings are erected on the site, hence the discovery of the Rose remains, which are open for inspection by the public on certain dates.

A few years back I visited the site of the first ever purpose-built playhouse in London, in Shoreditch, called appropriately enough The Theatre. It was open for viewing on appointment before another theatre was to be built on the site. (It never happened: it is now hidden away behind a hoarding, doing nobody any good.) The foundations of the Curtain Theatre were also discovered just down the road.

The Theatre Museum, once in Covent Garden, is now tucked away in an obscure corner of the V & A. It’s disappointing, in my humble opinion, but it is free. The V & A also has an archive of filmed old theatre productions that you can book to see.

If anyone is interested in knowing more about any of this, or getting up or being part of a group for a Shakespeare walk or a visit to a theatre (preferably fringe), then do get in touch with me at patsytrench@gmail.com. Or through my website at www.londontheatrevisits.com.

NT backstage tours: http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/discover/backstage-tours-0
NT talks and workshops: http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/discover-more
Theatre Royal Drury Lane tours: http://www.reallyusefultheatres.co.uk/specials-vip-hospitality/offers/tours
Globe Theatre tours: http://www.shakespearesglobe.com/exhibition/about-the-exhibition-and-theatre-tours
Royal Court tours: http://www.royalcourttheatre.com/whats-on/tours/?tab=1
Old Vic tours: http://www.oldvictheatre.com/whats-on/2015/neds-tours/
SOLT tkt booth: http://www.tkts.co.uk/whats-on-sale/
Royal Opera House tours: http://www.roh.org.uk/tours/backstage-tour
Royal Albert Hall tours: http://www.royalalberthall.com/tickets/tours-and-exhibitions/behind-the-scenes-tour/
Rose Theatre, Southwark: http://www.rosetheatre.org.uk/
V & A National Video Archive: http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/t/nvap/