With a square mile called theatreland and home to some of the greatest shows in the world, it’s no surprise that London is flooded with theatre fans wanting to get their stagey fill of the city. Yet, whilst I love going into the theatres, finding my seat and enjoying a brilliant West End Show, I have found that there are plenty of stagey things to fill your days (before going to an evening show of course) that don’t have to involve actually going into a theatre.
The Theatre Cafe – 66 Shaftesbury Avenue
Located in the heart of theatreland, the theatre cafe allows you to indulge in your love of all things stagey whilst enjoying a lovely drink and delicious food. Step inside and find this little cafe full to the rafters with musical memorabilia and a jukebox playing show tunes all day long. Every drink has a stagey name from ‘Charlie and the hot chocolate’ to ‘the smoothie in my mind’ and each one is served in a cup decorated with musical pictures. And I will say it’s all very reasonably priced too, which is great for a cafe in the centre of London.
Get your drink and perhaps a piece of cake and take a seat here, and take in the view. Look out the front window and you’ll see the majestic Queens theatre, home of the West End’s longest running musical Les Miserables (30 years young and still going strong). Look around and you’ll find some amazing memorabilia from many years of spectacular stage musicals ranging from the original Elphaba broomstick to a pair of ballet shoes and Maggie Thatcher mask used in Billy Elliot. If you’re lucky, you can sit at the autograph table on the old theatre seats and try and spot all the stars signatures on the table. When the table become full, the stars started signing the toilet doors. And yes, even the toilets are stagey with signatures on the doors and a light surrounded mirror.
As the theatre cafe is in partnership with London Theatre Booking, you can also buy show tickets directly from the cafe whilst enjoying your stagey drink. A number of the tables have tablets set up to the website with some great deals for various London shows. The staff are incredibly helpful when it comes to finding some good deals for tickets. They are also happy to help with any else, such as directions around theatreland.
Another bonus to the theatre cafe is the change to see and meet some West End Stars. The cafe regularly host special events such as interviews and sing alongs with some amazing musical stars as well as hosting exhibitions of some incredible stagey artwork. If you can’t attend one of their special events, there’s still a chance to see some stars. The theatre cafe has become a favourite amongst the stage stars of London and some are regular visitors such as the cast of Les miserables who are known to often pop in for the drink between shows. I was lucky enough to meet Tim Prottey-Jones (star of Kinky Boots) in the cafe on my most recent trip there.
In conclusion, I love the theatre cafe and go there every time I visit theatreland. I must say my favourite is the orange hot chocolate with cream and marshmallows, the perfect drink to enjoy whilst soaking up the stagey atmosphere and enjoying the fabulous show tunes playing on the jukebox.
Stanfords horse drawn coach tours – 12-14 Long Acre
I’m sure you have all seen the many open top buses that travel around the London sights, but there is a much more interesting way to see the sights, learn some history and get some more unique look that the theatres as you pass. Stanfords, the large map and travel book store on Long Acre operates the only horse drawn coach tour in London. Drawn by two, sometimes three, horses and with the driver in traditional dress including the classic top hat, I think this tour is much more interesting and fun than the normal open top bus.
Being very similar in height to the open top buses and open top as well, the Stanfords horse drawn coach attracts a lot of attention as it passes. People’s reactions can be priceless when they turn around to see what it making the rattling noise to see two massive shire horses driving down the busy London roads. Riding the coach down the strand, through to Covent Garden and down the iconic Shaftesbury Avenue, you get close up and unique look at the buildings as you pass, including, of course, the many theatres. Plus the slower more gentle pace makes it great for taking photos.
The good thing about the horse and coach tour is that the coach can go down roads that the open top bus tours can not travel down. For example, down from Cambridge Circus onto seven dials giving a great view of the Cambridge theatre. The slight problem here was the long hanging trees (and at the time I went on the tour, bunting) so you do have to duck but you can laugh this off.
The horse drawn coach tour runs three times on both Tuesday’s and Thursday’s at 3pm, 4:3pm and 6pm. I, for one, would love to go back and do the tour again in the winter. I think it would be a great way to see the Christmas lights. The tour starts and ends at Stanfords on Long Acre and tickets are available to buy both online and from the shop.
Curtains Up, theatre and performance exhibition – V&A museum, Knightsbridge
Until the end of August, in addition to their exhibition of the history of theatre and performance, the V&A museum is playing host to the Curtains Up exhibition display 40 years of theatre in London and New York. With the museums free admission, this is a great and easy way to get your stagey fill.
The exhibition is full of stage memorabilia and displays, ranging from old style posters to the original phantom masquerade costume and Michael Crawford’s mask. Walk through and find many interesting displays on the history of theatre many of which are interactive. You can learn how the sound is mixed and balanced during the show and watch behind the scenes footage from wicked.
The theatre and performance exhibition in itself it’s great, full of set dioramas and costume displays. Some of the costumes include Judy Dench’s dress from The Audience and costumes from The Lion King. You can also see theatre models and learn about the lighting set up for shows such as Sweeney Todd. Other memorabilia includes, Tony awards, Olivier awards, the famous golden hats from A Chorus Line and personal letters and notes from Vivian Leigh and Lawrence Olivier.
In conclusion, if you want to spend a couple of hours immersed in theatre history, go to this exhibition and enjoy the displays. You will learn a lot and be able to get some great photos of a lot of theatre memorabilia. If you can, you can catch the curtain up exhibition until the end of August before it goes to New York. If not, the theatre and performance exhibition is worth a look anyway.
Just walk – any way you want
You can see a lot of stagey sights just by taking a walk around theatreland. The square mile of the West End means that many of the theatres are within walking distance of each other.
I walked down from Tottenham Court Road down Charing Cross Road and was able to photograph many theatres along the way including the Phoenix, The Palace, The Wyndam’s and The Garrick. Continue onto the Strand and you’ll find The Adelphi, The Vaudeville and The Savoy. This is to name but a few of the theatres you can find within a relatively short walk.
There are many routes you can take. I walked around theatreland on one of my trips to London, and I must have found around 30 different theatres ranging from the huge theatre Royal Drury Lane to the much smaller Donmar Warehouse.
In conclusion, I hope that I have shown that there are many ways to get your stagey fill in London’s theatreland without actually going into a theatre. What better way to spend your day time before enjoying an evening show?