Special Six: London Theatres

To be able to return to university, after a decade of immersing yourself in an intense and hectic career, is like being given a cherished gift. I was given that opportunity to return for a year to university life in 2014 and best of all, to my university of choice in London, through the Chevening scholarship programme. So of course my travelling soul perked up. In addition to looking forward to the academic studies, I was looking forward to exploring London’s nooks and corners as well as travelling around the UK. I had actually mapped out lists of places I simply had to visit during my year there before I even left Sri Lanka. Arriving in London during the chilly fall season, to a room on the top floor of a building whose lift was undergoing repairs that term, resulted in old injuries from a road traffic accident acting up. Having to undergo osteopathy to deal with the pain, and experiencing limitations in my mobility, dampened my travel plans. So, I had to shift the expectations of my mind to let go of travel plans and simply enjoy the moment as it came wherever I was, when I could.

That is when I looked again at London, all the attractions that I had wanted to sample, and see which ones were still feasible for me. What I immediately focused upon was the theatre. Of all the cities I have lived in or travelled to, London for me is most synonymous with the theatre. You practically come across a theatre (s) on every street in the west end. As a huge fan of the theatre, I prioritized experiencing not just different theatre offerings but also different theatres.

So, here’s my list of six theatre favourites from the twelve I had the opportunity of experiencing and some tips on discounts, where applicable, as theatre experiences are quite expensive.

  • The National Theatre:

Photo credit: National Theatre/ Philip Vile

This lovely theatre on the South Bank, supported by the Arts Council England, is my favourite not only because it puts on great plays but also offers great discounted tickets. I enjoyed Tom Stoppard’s The Hard Problem at Dorfman theatre, an adaptation of Carol Ann Duffy’s Everyman at Olivier theatre and the ultra-long George Bernard Shaw play Man and Superman, with Ralph Fiennes, at Lyttelton theatre. The theatre’s £15 travelex and £20 Friday rush tickets make the experience more affordable. For those interested in theatre productions, the Sherling High-Level Walkway in the Dorfman theatre offers visitors a glimpse into the production workshops and there are regular free exhibitions held in the Lyttelton lounge and Wolfson gallery at Olivier theatre. A further bonus is that all three theatres at the National are very accessible.

  • Theatre Royal Haymarket:

Photo credit: Theatre Royal Haymarket

I liked the origins of this lovely theatre with its modest beginnings and tumultuous history – a theatre started in 1720 by John Potter, a carpenter, without the royal patent required then for being able to run a theatre but which soon built its reputation as a professional theatre. Located close to Piccadilly, it is quite easy to reach. I watched the moving play by Hayhurst, Taken at Midnight, with Penelope Wilton and Pomerance’s The Elephant man with Bradley Cooper. The only hitch is that accessibility is only for the stall seats, which are very expensive. I had to climb up two flights of stairs to reach the more affordable upper circle seating area so it was good that I waited till my leg had recovered fully in spring to go to this theatre. While there weren’t discounted tickets on offer like the National Theatre, booking in advance might help with access to the cheaper priced tickets available.

  • Theatre Royal Drury Lane:

Photo credit: Theatre Royal Drury Lane

The historic theatre, the oldest theatre in England still in use since the 17th century, is worth visiting. While the popular, long, running musical at this theatre currently is Charlie and the chocolate factory, I went here for a concert of Celtic Woman. Here too, one needs to climb up the stairs to go to the relatively cheaper seating areas.

  • Lyceum Theatre:

Photo credit: Lyceum Theatre

With a history going back to 1772, the theatre became the first in England to incorporate a balcony projecting over the circle, when it re-opened in 1834. After a fire destroyed the theatre, the present building was re-opened in 1907. I went to see the Lion King musical, my favourite musical, with one of my best friends and her daughter back in 2010 during an earlier brief visit to the city. My friend’s kid loved it so much that she declared she was going to be Nala when she grew up. The musical, a definite must-see with kids, is currently in its 16th year and still going strong.

  • Royal Opera House:

Photo credit: Royal Opera House

The beautiful Royal Opera House is located in Covent Garden. The present theatre was built in 1858, after the first built in 1732 and the second built in 1808 was burnt down by fires. Experiencing this beautiful building and a ballet or opera performance inside is a must-do for the London visitor or resident. For those with UK student IDs, there is a special package called the ROH student, where highly discounted tickets for certain performances are provided. I understand these discounts are often sponsored by ROH patrons. One of the two ballet performances that I went to see was the Paul Hamlyn Christmas Treat, Alice in wonderland, for which the tickets were subsidized by the Helen Hamlyn trust fund. My stall seat ticket was at the token cost of £1. The place is easily accessible and does not have difficult stairs to navigate.

  • Arcola Theatre:

Photo credit: Arcola Theatre/ Miriam Mahony

I was searching for smaller theatres that staged small productions on contemporary issues and came across Arcola Theatre at Dalston, in the east of London. The theatre has small, cosy studios and there is very much a relaxed atmosphere there with audience members often interacting with each other. I went for three performances at Arcola and each was unique and focused on contemporary issues. From a musical about a cancer patient going through a transformative experience at her clinic (Happy Ending) to a triad of short plays on women and the Arab revolutions (The Singing Stones) to the ultra-controversial (Sex workers’ opera), the Arcola offerings are bold and thought-provoking and generally draws extreme reactions from the audience. The tickets are priced around £10 to £20, though there is a ‘pay what you can’ tuesday evenings and the Arcola Passport for £50 allowing you a choice of 5 performances.

Bonus tip for groups: It is also worth it to contact the theatre and see if there are special group discounts. I went to see Miss Saigon at Prince Edward Theatre at a discounted group package of £10 pounds per ticket. Not sure if the discounts are for student groups but definitely worth checking out, if in a large group.

To check which shows are available this week or the official ticket prices, click this link to London Theatres.

To view this article in the GPSmyCity app, please follow this link on your iPhone or iPad.

[I am linking up my London theatre wanderings Wanderful Wednesday and City Tripping #49]

Wanderful Wednesday

Wander Mum

40 thoughts on “Special Six: London Theatres

    • The ROH is indeed a beautiful place. And, I had planned to go to Shakespeare’s Globe theatre during the summer but by then, I was fully recovered so was finally travelling out of the city.


  1. Hey, I used to work in theatre in London and it’s lovely to read this post. My favourite of these is probably the Arcola as I also love new writing. You should try The Almeida in islington who have some cheaper seats and The Donmar in Covent Garden that have £10 seats if you book on a Monday. These are my top theatres 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I had come across Donmar’s website and their monday special prices, during my search for smaller theatres, but I was never able to be online at that specific time. I must try out The Almeida and Donmar, during my next visit to London. Thanks for the suggestions.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. What a great list of London delights! That’s great that you had the chance to experience these. Even though I come from London, and have lived there most of my life, I have hardly been to any shows. I think it’s the mistake of thinking that you can do it anytime… and then you don’t! I have seen the Lion King though, and it’s amazing 😀 Thanks for linking up with #WanderfulWednesday

    Liked by 1 person

    • I guess one tends to do that when it comes to the home base. I do the same when it comes to the theatre scene in Colombo – rarely going to any of the plays or concerts staged here, though the choices are quite limited. Lion King is amazing, isn’t it?! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • Glad to hear that you liked Her Majesty’s theatre and Phantom of the Opera. I think it would be my second favourite musical, after Lion King.


    • Thank you, Isabel and yes, a theatre experience in London is something that must be experienced! To add to your FAQ post this week, how is the theatre scene in Slovenia?:)


  3. What a lovely write up! I have been in London for around 17yrs and hardly bern to any of the above. The only one (and one of my favourite experience of being to the Theatre) was to watch the Lion King with you! You also got me hooked to Cuban Jazz….
    Love your spirit of exploring and need to carry it forwards.
    Miss you and wish I had more time then.
    Keep writing and sharing your experiences…look fwd to it!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Bindu 🙂 I loved watching Lion King with you and Niks as well! Miss you both and hope you will be able to visit Sri Lanka later this year or next summer!


  4. I’m sorry that your time in London didn’t exactly go as planned, but it looks like you made the most of it! I have only been to London once, but can totally relate to the feeling of excitement in a city of theatres! One of my favorite things to do when I’m home in New York is find a way to catch a affordable Broadway show! Thanks for sharing and linking up! I’ll definitely keep these in mind for when I finally return! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • I did have a wonderful time in London, despite the initial hiccup. And often when plans shift, one does end up with lot of unexpected experiences which are more fun. Have a lovely weekend! 🙂


  5. I’m not surprised that London has a theater on every corner. Like you say, the city is most synonymous with the theatre. I haven’t been in any of the theaters that you mention in your post when I visited London. It’s hard to see everything in a week, but you were lucky to receive a scholarship for the university of your choice in London. You could spend all this time visiting this great city. I’d love to go to the Royal Opera House. I love opera.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I just love going to the theatre in London…I wish I did it more. The actual theatres have a lot of character, probably because many are so old! As such, most aren’t great if you have very long legs but that’s not an issue for me (just my hubby). I’m looking forward to taking my daughter to the Lion King in the next year or so now she’s a bit older. Not familiar with the one in Dalston thanks for highlighting and joining #citytripping


  7. I really don’t make the most of the theatre in London. I used to check out the half price ticket booth and occasionally get cheap returns but haven’t been for ages. The Lion King is something I think my daughter would love. #citytripping


    • I am sure your daughter would love Lion King. It is such a special musical though it can be a trifle long for the very young. At the same time, the show is engrossing so like my friend’s daughter, she might also be entertained sufficiently to be seated for a couple of hours.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I haven’t been to the English National Opera yet, though I had planned to during my year in London. Visiting ROH is a special experience and I think you will love it as well.


  8. The royal opera house looks so beautiful – we’ve talked about seeing an opera for a while now but you have just inspired me on where to book one, I’d love to see inside there. I like the look of the Arcola too – it seems very ‘real’, if you know what I mean!?
    Did Bradley Cooper play the Elephant Man?? Surely not!? He’s so beautiful! 😉 #citytripping

    Liked by 1 person

    • I get what you mean about Arcola, Alex. It has the cosy, intimate feel of a small theatre where the sets seem more approachable than those at high-end productions. And yes, Bradley Cooper did play the Elephant man in 2015 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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