London is one of the best places to enjoy live entertainment, never more so than its theatres. Theatreland around Leicester Square is where you would naturally aim though as I pointed out in N is for Nationals, the National Theatre is stunning (inside) and probably the best value for money.
In addition some of the fringe venues such as the Donmar Warehouse, the Tricycle, the Old and New Vics and the Royal Court
are well worth the effort of checking what is on. I know Google is the almanac of choice these days but, for me, nothing quite beats Time Out to grab details of the listings.
Some shows rival Broadway for expense but unlike my experiences of New York good value and excellent theatre are almost always available somewhere.
One place to start, as with the ticket office in Times Square, is its counterpart on the south side of Leicester Square
where tickets for that night’s shows will be available at a discount.
Currently there are rather too many musicals for my tastes – I feel a little like I’m watching synchronised football, it’s like the real thing only rather saccharine and artificial.
Still as with Art and Marmite, everyone has a strong view.
Most central London theatres have maintained their aged splendour and while a few feel a little tarty they created a beguiling atmosphere and allow you, perhaps more easily than the functional National, to suspend disbelief more easily as you settle into some plush velveteen seating that was designed with Size 0 bottoms in mind.
If you start at Piccadilly by Eros, a meeting place for decades, you can go along Coventry Street to Leicester Square and take in the rather bizarre Swiss clock
before arriving at the theatres in St Martin’s Lane
or better still head along the curving Shaftesbury Avenue
to view the various theatres.
Off to the left, almost immediately is access to the still seedy Windmill Theatre, a expert exponent of rule bending that, post WW2, allowed naked women to be displayed in static tableau while the cream of up and coming comedy acts tried to engage the audience between sets. You had to be dammed good to snag those punters’ attention.
Now, despite a somewhat tacky feel it is nothing to the all round griminess of this area circa 1979 when I arrived, as it was the edge of the sex shops and sex shows that made up Soho. Today they’ve pretty much disappeared form here – Raymond’s Revue bar exists but for a wander not much else. Indeed you can see the money has come back in with more expensive boutiques.
At the top of Shaftesbury Avenue you are inevitable drawn away from the Cambridge Theatre, original home of Les Miserables and alter Spamalot today the Seven Dials (a junction with 7 roads)
and Covent Garden which we explored in an earlier piece.
Had we left Piccadilly Circus and headed south on either the Haymarket or Lower Regent Street
then we would have encountered other theatres,
bigger and more grand than most in Shaftesbury Avenue.
There are many and if their particular offering suites you tastes and budgets then they are good to visit. I’ve loved pretty much every minute and, one disastrous children’s Christmas show apart, have yet to walk out. Which is more than I can say for films.
Since I first came as a young man in the mid 70s I have had some brilliant nights and have experienced a gamut of emotions.
I’ve been rendered speechless by Tom Stoppard’s incomprehensible brilliance with Jumpers and baffled by Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead
I’ve been intellectually flattered that I understood Quantum Mechanics after Michael Frayn’s Copenhagen only to be provided wrong when I tried to explain it later.
I’ve laughed my ribs out of their sockets at the Alans Aykborn and Bennett especially the Norman Conquests and the History Boys and learnt that farce is worthy of my time with One Man, Two Guv’nors.
I’ve squirmed with embarrassment at the sight of Nicole Kidman’s and Diana Riggs’ bare bottoms even if later I was disappointed to find the second bottom was a double. I realise I’m a bit of a prude and nudity on stage has me thinking my mother is watching me, as she did when the TV delivered something salacious circa 1974. I really can’t concentrate.
I’ve grimaced at the violence of Howard Brenton and others; I can cope with this better nudity. Not that I enjoy it either; it seems to me the imagination is a stronger tool and this sort of reality isn’t so much shocking as crass.
I’ve cried at War Horse and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night time. Now I do cry. A lot.
I’ve been enraptured by Judy Dench’s Cleopatra and nearly had a heart attack with Benedict Cumberbatch’s Frankenstein and his unexpected bell ringing about 15 foot from my head
And best of all, I will remain forever grateful that I saw Michael Gambon in A View from the Bridge by Arthur Miller – who is probably my favourite playwright. I don’t think I have been so involved in a production as I was that night.
Of course, I can’t talk about theatre without mentioning Shakespeare. The other day i mentioned a sculpture that represented the seven ages of man speech and the fourth age, the soldier who was ‘bearded like the Pard’. I took a proper picture of this fierce beast, my ancestor.
Yes I’ve been lucky and if you have the chance to experience a little bit of British Theatre I really do encourage you to do so.
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