Make your trip to London magical with a big night out at the theatre.
London theatre casts a spell quite unlike any other city’s live performance scene. Steeped in history, the West End is home to world-class shows that draw audiences from around the globe, with something to suit everyone. Here’s your guide to the London’s greatest theatres.
The Globe Theatre & Historic venues
The Globe Theatre opened on the South Bank in 1599, the same year Shakespeare wrote Henry V. Perhaps the first of his plays performed there, it has a wink to the audience in the opening speech: “A kingdom for a stage, princes to act, and monarchs to behold the swelling scene!” The original Globe Theatre no longer stands but this faithful reconstruction on the same spot was completed in 1997. It’s like going back in time and seeing Shakespeare’s plays as they were performed at the turn of the 17th century. If you’re one of the ‘groundlings’ you’ll have a great view of the stage but be ready to get rained on through the open roof.
The Theatre Royal Drury Lane opened in 1812, the latest in a series of theatres built on the same site since 1663. Recently restored to its Regency style, it’s rumoured to be haunted, but ghosts haven’t kept audiences away from its mega-successful Charlie & The Chocolate Factory. Not far away, you can enjoy the columned grandeur of The Haymarket theatre, dating back to 1720. A favourite for modern classics like Stephen Jeffrey’s The Libertine, it’s also open during the day for acting master classes and workshops.
A Wicked Art Deco Inspiration at Apollo Victoria
The Apollo Victoria Theatre opened in 1930 and was a cinema for decades before being transformed into a live performance venue in 1981. It’s rich in art deco glamour, with silver organ pipes running up to the ceiling framed by flowers that cast an ethereal glow. Many hit London shows have played here over the years, with the award-winning musical Wicked breaking box-office records for the past decade.
Stars of the Show: The Palace Theatre & Shaftesbury Theatre
The Palace Theatre’s brick facade looms over Leicester Square, winning punters from cinema rivals with shows like Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Then there’s the Shaftesbury Theatre, with a rich musical and comedy history in its flamboyant interior. The Royal Albert Hall is the biggest London theatre of all. Opened in 1871, it can hold a 3,900-strong audience and is home to the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, offering a variety of performances from late-night jazz to The Proms, Britain most famous classical music event.
The London Palladium & the Lyceum Theatre
One of the city’s grandest theatres, the London Palladium has shown everything from Royal Variety Performances to the King and I, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Rufus Wainwright concerts since it opened in 1910. Once home to Victorian acting superstar Sir Henry Irving (the man who inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula) the Lyceum Theatre was almost demolished before becoming a major pop concert venue in the 1960s and ’70s for bands like The Who and The Clash. Today, thousands flock to the Lyceum Theatre to see the award-winning The Lion King, showing six days a week for the past 17 years.
Christmas London shows for kids
If you’re taking your kids to shows in London around Christmas, go for traditional pantomime, or panto – comical adaptations of children’s tales like Little Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty and Jack & The Beanstalk that are kitschy fun for grown-ups too. Fancy a multicultural twist? Head to Tara Theatre in Earlsfield for new takes on the classics like Bollywood Jack.