The London Theatre Scene – So many options it’s amazing…

I can’t help being impressed with the London Theatre Scene. It feels a bit like NYC – so many options at so many different price ranges it’s almost too confusing for words. And it’s all in English – sort of.

Which is one of our first problems. We’re here for 5 nights, so 4 nights of theatre seems reasonable – but there are some issues.

1. Figuring out what to see.
2. Figuring out how to get tickets
3. Figuring out where the Theatre is
4. Figuring out how to eat dinner before a 7:30 show

Trust me on this – #4 on the list is pretty important. You can’t enjoy a play if your stomach is growling, and for some reason we’ve been getting a late start – aka late breakfast – every day. So lunch is delayed – we’re not hungry at 6:00 – and finding something quick to tide us over is a challenge. In the end, we decided to eat after the Theatre – which worked successfully twice. Hurrah for small sucesses.

But – ignoring our stomachs – lets just stay calm and carry on shall we?

Picking a show is a huge part of the fun, and there are dozens and doznes of options. There are the big shows – long running American Shows like “The Book of Mormon”, “Wicked”, “Mamma Mia”, and the like. There are popular NYC transplants like “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night” and there are chestnuts – “King Lear” or “Amadaus”. There are ‘big’ plays I’ve never heard of – “The Libertine”, “The Woman in Black”, “The Ghost or Who is Sylvia?”.

And then there’s the National Theatre who has three stages – and we found out – discount ‘day of’ tickets. Playing there was “Amadaus”, “The Red Barn”, and “A Pacifist’s Guide to the war on Cancer”. But the season constantly changes so you must check when you arrive in London. Coming up there’s Hedda Gabler, Peter Pan, Romeo and Juliet, and Love. They also have several ‘West End’ theatres which keep their longer running productions – like “The Curious Incident of the Dog” – which is on it’s 4th staff change!

In the tube and on the buses – you just see ads for the ‘big’ guys – and that spoke strongly of which shows are money makers, vs which shows are more about theatre.

Plus there are smaller theatres – ones harder to find out what is going on at because of the number of hits you get for the bigger shows. Time Out in London is an excellent fast resource (and it you sign up – they sometimes email you interesting discount offers). There’s also a great “off the West End” site to check out – http://www.offwestend.com – which bills itself as the ‘all em-bracing site for independant Theatre’. They cover an amazing 124 different theatres – none of them in the “West End”. Included on their list is the Old and New Vic, and the Globe. Again – sign up to be kept in the loop by email.

Getting tickets – ah ha – there’s the rub. The worst place in the world to get tickets is thru an on-line reseller. They are often priced much higher than the theatre originally asked – and the ‘time is running out’ pressure can lead to bad decisions. The best place to get tickets – in my opinion – is from the theatre box office – or at worst the Theatre’s website. Those are priced as the Theatre thought they should be – and represent a bargain over the re-sellers. Some theatres even release a block of inexpensive tickets on the day of the show to clear up any empty chairs. We ended up having to use wholesalers for 2 of our 4 choices – only for the National Theatre Performance of “Amadeus” and “The Curious … Dog” could I buy tickes from the theatre itself.

Now – back to our 4 actual choices.

Unlike the Intrepid Traveler, my husband wants to go to theatre that has been pre-approved to be worth his time. And that means either a story he knows, or a story that appeals to him on some inate level, or something that has won numberous awards.

This explains our picks:

The Libertine – a “West End” production in elaborate period costumes that tells the story of a morally questionable young gentleman and his ‘reward’. Given that the play is quite old, we expected that the moral judgement would be quite harsh. But our issue with this play was one of accents. Our British isn’t that good apparently.

The Book of Morman – another “West End” production – winner of countless awards – which after have seen the show makes me wonder about who exactly hands out these things. Maybe it was a bad year for competition. My advice, ignore the marketing – avoid the Musical.

Amadeus – an absolute stunner of a production with a live orchestra that wanders the stage – ‘acting’ as well as playing glorious music. But the killer part belonged to the young man (Luciani Msamati) in the role of the vicious Salieri. Words simply can’t describe how outstanding his performance was. Breath-takingly glorious production with an outstanding cast in a fabulous theatre. What’s not to love.

The Curious Case of the Dog in the Night – I’d seen this in NYC with my sisters – and loved it. The computer and light effects are stunners – and I found the story wormed its way into my heart. At first the plight of the young man seems outside of our experience – but he gradually becomes more clear, more open, more worthy of our regard. It’s a strong play that can work that magic on an audience – and while not the stunner of Amadeus – this was a good runner up for best night out in London.

It turns out finding the Theatres was super easy – The Map option on my iphone even shows me the fastest transit option – including locating the bus stops! We only got confused when we arrived at Piccadilly Circus – which has become a Circus of epic proportions. Thank goodness for Ripley’s Believe it or Not – it’s such an obvious landmark you can easily use it to rotate your body and map to find the Theatres.

So there you have it – what we saw – and how we found out was was playing – and what we thought of the plays we saw.

My advice – try the OffWestEnd.com website for listings, and call the theatre directly. And stay away from those mega shows. They are on their 3rd and 4th castings – the original performers are long gone – and even the crew is getting a bit tired. Do new I say!

Signing off to check on more theatre options here in London – The Soup Lady

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