With a Shakespearean heritage and a famous West End that’s buzzing with star power, London is a dream city for fans of the theater. Here’s a short and sweet overview of what you need to know about London’s famous thespian scene.
West End and Other Major Players
The West End, located in central London, is London’s theater district and contains around 40 venues. With all the prestige of Broadway (if not more), West End shows are the heavyweights with the big names. They can be any genre including musicals, plays, comedies, or even pantomime (a family-friendly musical comedy). Some of the West End’s hottest stage productions include the world-famous "Hamilton" at the Victoria Palace Theatre; "Matilda The Musical" at the Cambridge Theatre; "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child" at the Palace Theatre; and the West End’s longest-running musical, "Les Misérables" at The Queen’s Theatre.
Though not considered West End, there are a number of prestigious “non-commercial” theaters of note. Some of the most iconic independent theaters are the Old Vic, which is currently presenting several Arthur Miller plays, and the Young Vic; both of which are located on The Cut, a street in Waterloo by South Bank. The other major institution in that area is the well-respected National Theatre. Housed in a massive complex with three auditoriums, this South Bank establishment hosts up to twenty-five productions a year, and right now you can watch "Small Island" and "Downstate."
Off West End
Also included in the category of Off West End and fringe theater is pub theater, which consists of more casual productions housed in separate rooms of pubs. A few pubs of note include Earl’s Court’s award-winning Finborough, which stages both plays and musical theater and Upstairs at The Gatehouse, a quaint pub theatre in Camden that stages a variety of genres and shows.
London loves Shakespeare (it was his adoptive city, after all), and whenever you come to the capital, you’re sure to find some classic Shakespeare on the stage. A good place to start is the open-air Shakespeare’s Globe theater, which is a reconstruction of the original Elizabethan playhouse set beside the River Thames in London’s Southwark area. The venue hosts guided tours and puts on Shakespeare’s famous plays. The seats are covered, but the area right in front of the stage, called the yard, is for standing only and is exposed to the elements.
The Royal Shakespeare Company, though based in the Bard’s hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon, always has productions in London. Right now you can see "The Taming of the Shrew" through August 2019.
Of course, there are other places to see Shakespeare in London too. For example through August 2019, The Bridge Theatre is putting on a fully immersive production of the famous comedy "A Midsummer Night's Dream."
Besides Shakespeare’s Globe, there are several other al fresco venues for shows, most of which only pop up in the warm summer months. Regent's Park Open Air Theatre stages Shakespeare, musicals, and operas, and there’s the Holland Park Opera set in the eponymous Holland Park.
Song and Dance
How To Get Tickets
Most tickets can be booked online through the show’s website. Sign up for the theater’s newsletter to be the first one to hear about new releases and tickets.
There are also other online sites selling tickets like TodayTix, which peddles last-minute tickets at reduced prices for over 50 London shows via their website and app. There are tickets for shows playing that day as well as shows playing up to thirty days in advance.
Almost all theaters have box offices, so to avoid online fees, try stopping by in person. For sold-out shows, it’s worth checking at the box office for any late-release or returned tickets.
Another way to score last minute and discounted tickets is to go to the TKTS booth in Leicester Square. It sells tickets for shows that are on that day as well as tickets for shows up to a week in advance.