Should you be looking to attend one of London’s top 10 shows, concerts or sport-venue tours during a stay in the capital, there’s a good chance you’ll find yourself stepping inside one of the following theatres – many of them in the city’s hallowed West End (or ‘Theatreland’) in and around the Soho, but others of them further to the east, showing how this particular area of the capital’s evolving into an ever more dynamic and exciting cultural destination…
(Rosebery Avenue EC1R 4TN)
One of the capital’s premiere venues for dance, this is the place to head to whether you’re in the mood for classical, contemporary ballet, interpretative dance, tango, flamenco or even hip hop. The roster of performances at Sadler’s Wells truly run the gamut and the building’s additional venue (the Lillian Baylis Studio) is an excellent launchpad for small scale, new works. But what of the name? Why Sadler’s Wells? Well, apparently, it dates back to the 17th Century when a medicinal well was found on the premises; visitors can still look down the well to this day.
Wilton’s Music Hall
(1 Graces Alley E1 8JB)
If you’re not from these shores then you may not have heard of the populist theatrical era known as ‘music hall’; well, it dates back to the late 19th and early 20th Centuries and was roughly equivalent to American vaudeville and, as you’d expect, this venue in the heart of East London was one of its finest exponents. And, although its line-up of shows nowadays is an eclectic collection of modern-day variety (musicals, dramas, comedy and music), its restoration to look as it did back in its Victorian/ Edwardian heyday but with a 21st Century twist ensures it’s a venue that’s bound to make for an outstanding, unusual evening out; especially if you’re staying at accommodation nearby, such as Montcalm London City Suites.
Menier Chocolate Factory
(51 Southwark Street SE1 1RU)
Into the West End then, and here’s a little theatre that could… or rather has done. For this memorably named studio space (its auditorium seats just 150) has seen many a transfer of its productions to ‘Theatreland’ across the river in the heart of Central London. And that’s no surprise because, in fact, this Southwark venue can lay claim to enjoying close ties with the Broadway musical legend that’s Stephen Sondheim, which is pretty much all you need to know to underline its credentials – and the quality, therefore, of the shows it mounts. Generally speaking, its programme is a mixture of musicals, comedic plays, imported revues from across the pond and well-reviewed stand-up gigs. Regarded as a white-hot venue then, it’s worth the short Tube trip from an East London-located base, like the London City Suites hotel.
(210 Shaftesbury Avenue WC2H 8DP)
A 1,400-seater venue, the Shaftesbury Theatre is one of the big West End efforts and no mistake. Having opened more than a century ago with a lavish production of the comedic adventure The Three Musketeers, over the decades it’s churned out much of the same fare. Fair dos, at different points in its history it’s been more successful at this than at others (it even had to close during the 1970s due to its roof caving in). But it soon reopened, was renovated and now boasts Grade II-listed status and is enjoying a particularly fruitful era; in recent years having mounted productions of the musicals Hairspray, Rock of Ages, Flashdance the Musical and, right now, Motown the Musical.
(35 Shaftesbury Avenue W1D 6AR)
Named after the British thesping great that was Sir John Gielgud, this venue was actually originally known as Hicks Theatre when it opened more than 110 years ago (after the theatrical auteur of the age, Seymour Hicks) and then became the Globe Theatre (not to be confused with the Tudor-era-style open-air venue of the same name to be found on the South Bank). Seating just shy of 1,000 people in its auditorium, it has a long history of hosting high-quality drama interspersed with popular musicals; its modern hits having included the musicals Hair and Avenue Q, as well as the plays The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time and, just recently, The Ferryman.
(31 Shaftesbury Avenue W1D 7ES)
Having opened at the dawn of the 20th Century (in 1901, to be precise) and seating 658, the Apollo Theatre is another of Shaftesbury Avenue’s contributions to ‘Theatreland’ and, as the 20th Century’s segued into the 21st, has distinguished itself as a premiere venue for high-quality drama, several of its productions having been stage adaptations of revered movies, others revivals of established, much-loved plays and, now and again, instant classics, like Jez Butterworth’s acclaimed-to-the-skies Jerusalem.
(29 Shaftesbury Avenue W1D 7ES)
Next door to the Apollo Theatre stands the Lyric, one of London’s grand old theatres, for sure (next year will mark its 130th anniversary). It built its early reputation on comic opera, evolving over time into a popular venue for a blend of musicals, light comedies and straight drama and, in today’s era, it seats 915 people across four levels in its auditorium. Fascinatingly, it features an iron curtain that, as was the case way back when it opened, is operated by hydraulic pressure – in other words, water. Decades ago, this required water to be piped into the theatre from the River Thames; nowadays that’s all been updated with an electric-powered pump, yet it remains hydraulic and so, yes, still requires water.
St. Martins Theatre
(West Street WC2H 9NZ)
Finally, a favourite theatre for visitors to the capital to visit, this is the venue that peculiarly and rather marvellously has staged the same play (and, thus, effectively the same production) for the past 43 years – the Agatha Christie whodunnit, The Mousetrap. It’s a West End, nay London institution then, its decades-long single showcase having been put on for more 26,000 performances at this Grade II-listed, 550-seater venue – undoubtedly, it’s the longest running, continuous theatre production of any type anywhere in the world.