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Recommendation for seeing a play in London

I'll be in London this December and would like to go to the theater one night. Do you all have any recommendations on websites/guides to what is out there and worth seeing? Or even better, any specific shows? The amount of offerings are so vast I don't know where to start.

I'd like to see a drama, probably not a musical although I'm open to being convinced otherwise. If possible, something that I wouldn't be able to see in the states (part of the reason the big musicals don't interest me so much on this trip). I see that the RSC is doing Measure Measure and that may be a good choice- I'm a big Shakespeare fan but don't know this play so well.

Please let me know your thoughts, and be opinionated! Thanks!

Posted by
16769 posts

I use theatremonkey.com, which has reviews of the plays as well as very useful information about the seating in the various theatres. More often than in the US (I think), you can be looking at the actors' ankles if you choose a seat in one of the first few rows. It's really helpful to have that kind of information before you buy your ticket.

I have to say that I was disappointed by the long-running "The Mousetrap". If it had been available at half-price, perhaps I'd have been OK with it. But full price was too much to pay for a play your local high school senior class might have performed--though the acting in London was fine.

London theatre terminology: "stalls" = orchestra; "dress circle" = 1st balcony; "grand circle" = 2nd balcony.

Posted by
2942 posts

I went to “Come from Away” and thoroughly enjoyed it. This musical is set in Gander at the time of the 911 groundings and celebrates the kindness of the locals and the resiliency of people. The production was extremely well done and I recommend the show.

Posted by
29 posts

If you can get a ticket to anything that the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) is putting on do it. Measure for Measure is a comedy, although not my favorite of the Bard, it is still worth checking out.

You say that you are not a fan of musicals however you might want to check out Hamilton in London. I could not get tickets to Hamilton in New York when I was there in 2015 or when the show was on the west coast of the US but I did see it in London this past September. It was really fun to see a show that is in part about the American Revolution with a UK audience. Also, the tickets are much less then in NYC.

Posted by
207 posts

Playbill shows the current and future listings for London and includes a link to buy tickets from the official ticket seller.

http://www.playbill.com/productions?venue-type=london

As others have noted, Theatremonkey is a great site to use, especially to check out how good the seats are. It’s better to use once you have decided on a play to see. You can enter the name of the theatre to get a floor plan that evaluates the quality of the seats and which have restricted views, etc.

http://www.theatremonkey.com/

London’s Time Out lists the plays in alphabetical order showing if they are drama, musicals, etc. It offers reviews as well.

https://www.timeout.com/london/theatre/a-z-west-end-theatre-shows-on-now-in-london

Here are the critics’ top choices:

https://www.timeout.com/london/theatre/london-theatre-critics-choice

This allows you to search for plays using several criteria:
https://www.londontheatre.co.uk/whats-on

If you want to see something you can’t see in the U.S., you might look at Ian McKellen On Stage: With Tolkien, Shakespeare, Others and YOU at the Harold Pinter Theatre which is a one man show (not really a play), but a rare chance to see a legend in a small space (I saw him in King Lear last year).

There are also Christmas season pantomimes (not everyone’s cup of tea, but something different).
https://www.timeout.com/london/theatre/christmas-pantomimes-in-london

As for plays that I’ve seen in London, Hamilton was amazing. You may have seen the musical in the U.S, but it was easier for me to get to see it in London.

The Play That Goes Wrong (a comedy) was just pure fun and hilarious. It has all of the stereotypes of an old fashioned English murder mystery (setting, costumes, accents, etc.), but then everything does go wrong in great comedic fashion.

I haven’t seen any of the current serious dramas, so I can’t comment about them.

All the best,

Raymond

Posted by
29 posts

Thanks for the great replies. I will take a look at them all. For musicals I just wanted to avoid the big name shows like Les Miserables that are probably the same as what you'd get in the states. I'll look into Hamilton for sure- assumed it would be impossible to get tix like in the states.

Has anybody here seen the current production of Death of a Salesman? I've read some great things.

Posted by
5817 posts

The Timeout London website is a good resource for theatre listings and reviews. It covers everything from the blockbusters to smaller productions.

You should have a reasonable chance of getting a ticket for Hamilton. Whilst it's been a popular show it simply doesnt have the same level of appeal to British audiences. With most people not having a clue who he was it doesn't sell itself in the same way that it did in the US.

A smaller theatre that's always worth considering in London is the Menier Chocolate Factory theatre. Its shows regularly move on to the west end with rave reviews.

Posted by
2564 posts

Just a general note about theater & concert events in the evening: Even when you think you're over your jetlag, if you're like me you might find yourself nodding off. To avoid this, I recommend a short (20-min) power nap in the afternoon, a light (as opposed to big) dinner without any alcohol, and some caffeine before curtain time.

Posted by
1059 posts

Take a small bottle of water or juice with you into the theatre, and use the bathroom before the production starts.
At half-time/the interval, the bar is very crowded and you can't get near it or the washrooms.
When I was in London last year at this time, they were charging 3 Pounds for a small bottle of water!!!!!
I saw "Everybody's Talking About Jamie", and loved it.

Posted by
3 posts

I always buy my tickets the day of at the TKTS booth in Leister Square. I research before the trip to find musicals or shows I would enjoy, then buy what’s available.

Posted by
403 posts

We just got back from London and saw Agatha Christie's Witness for the Prosecution and Ian McKellen's one man show. Neither will you see anywhere else like it is shown in London. Witness for the Prosecution is shown in the County Hall - where London government used to convene - amazing setting. Ian McKellen's show is a celebration of his life and career. We loved both events. https://www.londontheatre.co.uk/reviews/review-ian-mckellen-on-stage-at-the-harold-pinter-theatre

You're right - the selection is dizzying. Other responders have provided some good links for research, so have fun deciding. I don't think you can go wrong.

Posted by
29 posts

I had not heard of Witness for the Prosecution before your post but it looks exactly what we're after! Thank you for the tip. I think this might be what we'll see. The Ian McKellan play would be great as well but something about a one man show is making me hesitant.

Posted by
5817 posts

Ian Mckellan is a bit of national treasure and a great story teller. If you have an interest in theatre it really would be worth watching. It covers his personal life as well as professional. To get an idea of what to expect YouTube his appearances on the Graham Norton Show on the BBC. He really is very funny and down to earth. I have absolutely no interest in the theatre and I would love to see this “show”.

Posted by
23405 posts

Has anybody here seen the current production of Death of a Salesman? I've read some great things.

No I haven't seen it but it is /has been/ doing well.

The problem they have at the moment is that part of the ceiling came down this week and they either were or are still dark.

People who had to run out from the show will, perhaps, be given preferential treatment when it reopens so tickets may be harder to get. Only a few people were injured.

Posted by
18 posts

I’m going to add to all the people above who recommended Witness for the Prosecution. It’s Agatha Christie, and in such a cool setting- it’s a very unique experience that you can’t get anywhere else. It was originally only supposed to run until Fall 2017, IIRC- there’s a good reason why it just keeps getting extended!

I generally prefer musicals, but I think the West End’s greatest strength is it’s amazing plays. My strategy in London is always to look for plays, and musicals only if they originated in the U.K. or are something I can’t see in the U.S. Otherwise, we are spoiled in the U.S. with Broadway and Broadway-caliber touring productions of all the major musicals, so it makes more sense to me to see them here and see something unique to London when there. (If you want to see Hamilton, the best trick is to go to Chicago, where it’s been pretty easy and relatively less expensive to get tickets for a couple years now- probably why it’s closing there in a few months!)

My other suggestion would be to check what’s playing at Royal Albert Hall while you are in London. There’s just something magical about seeing performances there, I think it might be my favorite performing arts venue that I’ve ever been to. It’s on my bucket list to do the tour of the building next time I’m in London!

Posted by
1159 posts

tginjapan: I understand that you are hestiant about seeing a one man show. It is totally different than what most are used to seeing and to sit and listen to only one actor the whole two hours gives you pause, will I like that.

But... I am sure it is excellent and will keep you riveted! No, I have not see it. I have seen three one man shows ( two were female actresses - Kaye Ballard, it was about her life, ( she had been in the Mother-In-Laws), Eileen Hackett ( she did a one woman show as Elenor Roosevelt at Ford's Theatre in DC that I attended ) and an actor in Ireland who talked about his family and his father. All were amazing and out of all the plays and musicals I have seen through the years they actually stood out because they were the only ones doing the performance and had to keep the audience entertained.

So I would not hesitate to see this production if you are interested in the subject matter.

Posted by
5817 posts

A work colleague went to see the Ian McKellen show last week. He has a real love of theatre ( he is the only member of his family who isn’t an actor) and he really loved it.

Posted by
3133 posts

The Ian McKellan play would be great as well but something about a one
man show is making me hesitant.

Hesitant? I don't understand at all.

To me, it's an absolute TREAT! We saw John Lithgow in Stories by Heart last year and he was mesmerizing. This is performing at its pinnacle.

If you have never heard of an actor or if you don't like a particular actor, a one-man show COULD be a concern. So unless you don't like Ian McKellan, why would you be "hesitant"??

Posted by
29 posts

I guess I usually look for witty dialogue and plot when I see a play. I like watching actors interact on stage too. Doesn't mean a one actor show couldn't be good, but... well I'm a bit hesitant ;)

Seriously though, there's so many good review for McKellan I'm sure it's a great show. But I only have time for one, maybe two during my stay, so I have to pick wisely.

Posted by
326 posts

If you're tight for time, take a look at SIX The Musical, a modern take on the six wives of Henry VIII. It runs about 75-80 minutes. It's running in London now and scheduled for Broadway NYC in early 2020. Just saw the North American version here in Edmonton Canada and loved it - yes, it's a musical, but the dialogue and comedy between songs are spot on.

Posted by
5288 posts

I'm with wwaycock -- go to the TKTS booth and pick from what's available unless you have something you must see. I used to do that on business trips to NYC, saw a number of entertaining productions (OK, a few that didn't make it past a few months)

Posted by
16769 posts

You can check the TKTS offering online before heading over to the booth, but the best offerings may sell out very early. The booth has some tickets at full price, so don't assume everything is a bargain. Not being an early riser, I have never found a discounted ticket for something I wanted to see.

Posted by
3205 posts

I’m late to this thread, but regarding emma’s “You should have a reasonable chance of getting a ticket for Hamilton. Whilst it's been a popular show it simply doesnt have the same level of appeal to British audiences. With most people not having a clue who he was it doesn't sell itself in the same way that it did in the US,” about 5 winters ago, before the musical became such a hit, I was on a chairlift with a Brit at a ski area here in Colorado. Out of the blue, he said he’d recognized the men represented on most of the U.S. currency, but asked who it was on the $10 bill. He didn’t know Hamilton was British, and didn’t recognize the name then. Maybe still doesn’t remember. Hope you enjoy whatever show(s) you attend!

Posted by
5817 posts

Confession......I still don't know who Hamilton is or why there is a musical about him. I suppose I had better get on wikipedia and find out :-)

Posted by
3205 posts

A play involving a Chancellor of the Exchequer might be a hard sell in the USA, unless it has really great songs. Maybe make it a comedy, and call it Money Python?

Posted by
29 posts

|“Confession......I still don't know who Hamilton is or why there is a musical about him.”

Emma you are not alone. Even with the success of the musical most Americans still only know what they learned in school. He is the Dude on the $10 and he died in a duel with Arron Burr.

Hamilton was born in the Caribbean and came to the colony of New York as a poor immigrant. He studied and worked hard, was one of our Founding Fathers and is responsible for the way our economy works today.

The creator of the musical, Lin Manuel Maranda, is a New York City native and the son of immigrants that came from the Caribbean and prospered in the US.

It is a classic immigrant story and since most of us in the US are the descendants of immigrants I think that is why it is such a big hit. It is also a well told story with great music, period costumes and the London cast is excellent.

Enough said. Thanks of letting me vent!

Posted by
5817 posts

I promise I have read the Hamilton wikipedia page and I'm now fully briefed! :-)

Posted by
1067 posts

If you have some time on your hands, the book on Hamilton by Ron Chernow is one of the finest biographies in recent years. It is well worth a read.

Posted by
29 posts

Emma,

So happy I could help! You have helped me so much with my travel planning! :)

Posted by
29 posts

Booked tickets for Witness for the Prosecution. Will be sure to write up a review once we get back. Thanks for all the recommendations, it was tough choosing one.

Posted by
410 posts

We are in London now and just saw Come From Away. It is a wonderful musical. It will make you laugh, then cry and you will leave with a “feel good feeling” about the kindness of an entire town.

Would highly recommend.

Posted by
64 posts

If you’re flexible, check the TKTS booth in Leicester Square. We got 14th row seats for Wicked. There is a TKTS app that will have the shows available

Posted by
3436 posts

One tip about day-of-show TKTS. Some theatres may be offering front-row seats. There is a reason what seems like a great possibility may not have sold. Many of the theatres are small ("intimate") with seats jammed right up to the lip of the stage. Looking up, the bargain-seeker will have a fine view of the performers' knees.