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West End Weekend: Tips for Experiencing London’s Theatre Scene

[ 0 ] August 21, 2013 |

Wicked London

Wondering how to spend your evenings in London? Taking in a show while visiting London is a fun way to bring culture to your trip to the British capital. This article explains what to see in the theatre district, a little of the history of the area, and some tips for buying tickets and choosing shows.

The main district for watching plays, musicals, opera and other performances in the British capital is the West End especially between Piccadilly and Covent Garden. The term “West End” though can refer to a broader area, including the high-street-fashion shopping zone of Oxford, Regent and Bond streets. The City Council has designated the theatre district “Theatreland” as well though most people still simply it the “West End.” For hotels in London close to the theatres in the West End, try looking on this website.

A Long History of Performance

The first theatre built in London was constructed in the late 1500s in Shoreditch. Now, there are more than 40 theatres to choose from. Since the 1800s, the epicentre of the theatre district has been the West End. Of the theatres in the West End, the Apollo Victoria on Oxford Street is the largest. It was once a cinema, but now houses fine musical performances and seats about 2,500. The oldest working location for theatre in London is the Theatre Royal on Drury Lane. The current building was constructed in the early 1800s, but a theatre has been at that spot since the 1600s. Other notable theatres in the district include the London Palladium, the Savoy Theatre and the Adelphi Theatre. Each playhouse has its own intriguing history and architecture.

First-time visitors to London may be surprised to learn that the reconstruction of the Globe theatre, where Shakespeare’s theatre company performed, is not in the West End district. Instead, it’s located in Bankside. In addition to the contemporary performances in the West End, many visitors book tickets for one of the Shakespearian productions performed at this open-air theatre.

Choose the Play That Piques Your Interest

There are so many theatres offering such a variety of quality performances that the only dilemma about seeing a West End show is choosing which play is the most interesting to you!

West End shows run the gamut from glitzy ensemble musicals to minimalist dramas. Musicals that have received international attention and tours, like Disney’s “The Lion King” or Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “The Phantom of the Opera” often run for years, making it easier for you to read reviews and gauge whether or not you’d like the show. However, going to a non-musical performance may mean you can catch popular film stars bringing their talent to the small stage. For example, in 2013 West End is seeing performances from film superstars Rowan Atkinson (famous as Mr. Bean), Daniel Radcliffe (the “Harry Potter” star is now all grown up), and “Skyfall” co-stars Judi Dench and Ben Whishaw.

To find out what shows are playing and to read short descriptions of plotlines and settings as well as descriptions of venues, get a copy of the free London Theatre Guide publication from your hotel. The online guide also provides seating plans.

Buying Tickets Is a Snap

Buying tickets for a West End performance is easy. Shows perform every day except Sundays, and a few theatres offer matinees as well. Tickets to matinee performances are less expensive, but overall tickets to West End shows aren’t as expensive as similar productions in other major cities. Once you know the performance you would like to see, directly call the theatre box office to book a ticket and then pick up the tickets in person the night of the performance. You can also go through a third-party booking agency online. While convenient, this will incur booking fees on top of the ticket price.

Theatre Etiquette

Theatre etiquette is generally relaxed, though most people will dress up somewhat when they go out to see a play. However, British audiences expect their fellow theatre-goers to be extremely quiet as soon as the house lights go down — no talking on your mobile phone or crunching on food. At the end of the show, audiences clap heartily if they enjoyed it; however standing up to clap (a standing ovation) is unusual and saved for only the best performances.

Photo credit: Stuck in Customs / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

About the Author: Lina Patel is a popular culture and cinema reviewer who enjoys watching live performances — of any art form — whenever possible.

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About onurwaytravel: Colin has been travelling the world with his young family for the past 2 and half years. He runs a couple of websites all revolve around travel, family travel and digital nomadism. His websites include,, and now View author profile.

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