by Serena Grant, Berkshire on Stage London Correspondent
Berkshire on Stage’s Overview of the London theatre scene
London has one of the largest and most thriving theatre scenes in the world. The centre of this is the West End, a sprawl of famous theatres and world class productions in the heart of the city. However, there is more to London’s theatre world than the largest theatres, with many more experimental productions occurring around the city and its boroughs.
At the same time, it is worth thinking about where to eat and drink before and after a trip to the theatre, and worth considering the best ways to see other theatres.
1 – The West End
The West End is London’s commercial heart, at least compared to the financial centre of the City a few miles to the East. Theatre has long been a key attraction for the streets around Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square, with most venues tracing their roots to the 19th century and earlier. Among these are the major theatres of Shaftesbury Avenue, Drury Lane, Charing Cross and the Strand, which include the Adelphi, Cambridge, Garrick and Queen’s theatres. Current shows on around the West End include Billy Elliott, Chicago, Ghost, The Lion King and Matilda.
2 – More Unusual Theatres
There are also many smaller (and cheaper) theatres around the West End, or within a 5 minute Tube ride from stations in Piccadilly Circus, Tottenham Court Road, Oxford Circus, and Charing Cross. The Bridewell Theatre on Fleet Street is about a 10-15 minute walk, and includes many new theatres. There’s also the Charing Cross Theatre at the Arches, which is currently hosting Naked Boys Singing. In the busy squares of Soho, just North of the main theatre district, the Soho Comedy Club runs near-nightly standup events.
3 – Outside the West End
There are dozens of great theatres and small venues outside of the West End. Larger venues include the Barbican Arts Centre on the edge of the City of London, which hosts the London Symphony Orchestra, films, and theatre. Moreover, the Sadler’s Well Theatre in Clerkenwell, about 10-15 minutes’ walk from Angel Tube Station in Islington, features multiple dance and theatre events. The Battersea Arts Centre in Clapham, a short train ride from Waterloo Station, is also distinguished by its experimental shows. Further North, Hampstead Theatre near the Swiss Cottage area has long hosted new writers, and is currently testing out a new production of Chariots of Fire before it transfers to the West End.
4 – South Bank
The South Bank is only a short walk from the West End along the Victoria Embankment, or by crossing the river and walking from Waterloo station, or by travelling to Bank station and Embankment. The riverside site is notable for The National Theatre, the UK’s not for profit company whose current productions include Timon of Athens and Detroit. Along the river sits Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, a renovated space that is set to host a new performance of Henry V from June.
5 – General Theatre Tips
When looking for places to see plays and musicals in the West End, it is worth checking online for discounted tickets. Booths set up around Leicester Square, Shaftesbury Avenue and Charing Cross also provide last minute tickets.
6 – Eating in London
For eating, it’s worth investigating the many cheap meals available in Chinatown, which bridges Soho, Leicester Square, and Charing Cross.
For more expensive cuisine, check out Arbutus on Frith Street, Tutton’s Brasserie on Russell St and Hix in Soho on Brewer Street. In terms of after show drinks, check out the Players Club in Soho, which serves cocktails and food for non members till 11pm.
7 – Transport – Use the Tube
Getting around the West End and other London theatres is also straightforward by Tube, with most theatres near to Circle Line trains, or on the Northern Line, Victoria, District and Jubilee Lines if crossing South of the river.
About the Author
Serena studied AS Drama and A-Level Musical Theatre, achieving a distinction in the latter. She is an avid theatre lover, using her knowledge to be a full time writer for a number of online publications, currently promoting UK Theatre Tickets as the number one seller of discount theatre tickets online.