The Play is the Star: Best Tips for Seeing Theatre in London

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I will never forget the summer of '94. Working in London as the MSU Summer London Study Abroad Director, I packed as much theatre as I could into my time there. I danced onstage at Five Guys Named Moe, marveled at the chilling and realistic sound effects in Miss Saigon, bought countless tickets to Hot Shoe Shuffle, and went with my students to as many shows as we could pack in around classes and work. It was GLORIOUS.

Since then (well, let’s be honest – before then, too, but London’s incredible and prolific theatre offerings and vastly talented creatives spurred me to more theatre-loving heights), I’ve seen as many shows as I can pack in this lifetime. Whether it is a musical (my favorite), Shakespeare (tied for favorite), drama, or comedy, I’m in. ALL IN. 

The Play is the Star: Best Tips for Seeing Theatre in London

Whether you live in London or are visiting, chances are that, if you’re anything like me, a large portion of your time will be spent at the theatre. 

The Play is the Star: Best Tips for Seeing Theatre in London

In order to prepare for your London theatre experience (whether West End, Off West End, or further afield), here are our best tips for seeing theatre in London:

Tickets

Let’s start with the very first thing you need: Tickets! There are countless ways to purchase tickets in London, but to be sure you aren’t being scammed, go with a trustworthy site

We recommend Encore Tickets

Here’s why: you’ll see the very best shows, at an affordable rate – because they are an official partner for over 160 theatres in London. Easily access Encore Tickets via the website, or in person at Charing Cross Island or Leicester Square Station (Cranbourn Street entrance). 

The Play is the Star: Best Tips for Seeing Theatre in London

What to see: classics or new shows?

It’s so hard to decide what to see – do you want to defy gravity, or visit Westerberg High? Maybe you want a Fun Home, or to kick it old school with Shakespeare. Is Hamilton your style, or are you more of a Spamilton fan? Gangsta Granny, or War Horse

Luckily for ALL of us, London has more theatres than you can possibly attend – and your choices are varied. Do a mix, perhaps – some musicals to get your toes tapping, some challenging shows to get your brain moving, and some new and old favorites in between. 

Here’s a list of upcoming London shows.

Family Theatre Outings

Family travel is the best kind of travel, because not only do you build cherished memories, but you also learn and grow together. And, more likely than not, your kids will teach you so much about experiencing the world through their eyes. 

First, ask what they want to see. Aladdin? The Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe? Lion King? School of Rock? Snow White? Harry Potter and the Cursed Child? Ballet? Opera? You might be surprised by their choices.

The Play is the Star: Best Tips for Seeing Theatre in London

Second, have your kids research the shows they are most interested in. Then read the script together aloud beforehand, so that you can immerse into the magic of the performance, already knowing the story. If you’ve got a long flight, see if you can get audiobooks of the shows you’ll see.

Have teens? Don’t shy away from issues that are important to them, from knowledge of self (Kinky Boots, which our teen just adores, or Everybody’s Talking about Jamie) to Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which can inspire them in their own writing pursuits. 

Research!

I love to dig deep into whatever I’m about to experience, whether it is learning more about London musical theatre, or what it is like to be in a show on the West End. I also like to read reviews to get excited for the shows we’ve chosen, and, of course, follow the shows, actors, and the theatres on social media.

This background knowledge will make your theatre experiences much richer, allowing you to truly enjoy the actors, staging, and overall performance.

When in Rome… Theatre Etiquette

• Arrive early. The lines might be long! In fact, pick up your tickets earlier in the day, and THEN go to dinner. 

• Of course, please turn off your cell phone. 

• Do not take photos or video of the performances.

• Programs are not free – you can purchase them at the theatre, as a souvenir.

• Many of the theatres in London are historic structures. If you need accessible seating, call to ascertain if this is possible for your needs.

• Some shows have autism-friendly performances. Learn more here.

• Not all shows will have an intermission.

• Don’t clap first – watch and then clap only after others have done so (learned this the hard way).

• Many London theatres allow you to bring food and beverages inside. Just make sure you’re eating quietly (no crunchy foods) and your water bottle is not glass. 

• Dress comfortably – especially in summer, when the theatres may be hot inside.

• Keep it quiet – no need to talk during the show, or sing along (unless the cast asks you to – everyone came to hear the performers, not you). 

The Play is the Star: Best Tips for Seeing Theatre in London

Knowledge is Power

• Read your theatre maps before you go! Where are your seats? Where is the loo? Where do you pick up your tickets? 

• What kind of ice cream is available during intermission, and how do you get it?

• What is the history of the building? Who is the architect? Sometimes, the buildings are stars in their own right.

The Play is the Star: Best Tips for Seeing Theatre in London

The Play is the Star: Best Tips for Seeing Theatre in London

Getting There

• Allow for plenty of time to get to the theatre. 

• Factor in other travelers on public transportation, traffic, parking, and time of day you are traveling. 

• Find places to visit and eat that are close to the theatre, so that you aren’t spending much of your day getting from one place to the next – and perhaps arriving late or missing your show.

• Use the Citymapper or Google Maps app to help you get to your show!

The Play is the Star: Best Tips for Seeing Theatre in London

 

What are your best London theatre tips? We’d love to hear!

 

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