From on-stage action to behind-the-scenes tours
London’s Theatreland by Sir Ian McKellen
Could there be anyone better to guide you around the West End than revered actor, Sir Ian McKellen? Official London Theatre has teamed up with audio guide company, VoiceMap to allow theatre aficionados to be guided around Leicester Square, Covent Garden, the Strand and Embankment by the great thespian. Along the way he will tell you about the buildings while recounting tales from his time on the stage. All you have to do to enjoy this hour-long tour is download the free app and tour then you’re ready to go.
The Old Vic, Waterloo, London
Originally opened in 1818, the Old Vic has undergone many reconstructions and name changes during its life, to become the much-respected production house that it is now. Once home to the National Theatre, the likes of Laurence Olivier, Judi Dench, Ian McKellen and Kevin Spacey have all trod its boards, with the latter being artistic director for over a decade. Guided tours give visitors the chance to delve into almost 200 years of history and see behind-the-scenes at one of the UK’s top theatres.
Shakespeare’s Globe, Bankside, London
Built, destroyed and rebuilt no less than three times, this is the 1997 incarnation of one of the world’s best-known theatres. Seeing a show here is a very special experience but we recommend taking the time to learn about the history of the theatre and its namesake. Audio guides provide an hour of fascinating insight as you walk through the exhibition that sits underneath the site, while theatre tours allow you to be shown around by a knowledgeable guide as you cover the main house, Bankside and the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse.
The Minack Theatre, Porthcurno, Penzance
Just four miles from Land’s End, the amphitheatre is carved into the granite cliff face, with views from the raked seating stretching along Porthcurno Bay to Logan Rock and across the Atlantic to the horizon. The annual programme of events typically includes plays, opera and concerts, meaning there’s bound to be something going on to coincide with most summer holidays in Cornwall.
Chichester Festival Theatre
Known for its innovative productions, plenty of well-known actors have trodden Chichester’s boards including Sir Laurence Olivier who was also its first artistic director. Many of its shows have gone on to enjoy West End transfers, including the newly transferred Half a Sixpence; so we highly recommend taking the opportunity to see a smash-hit before anyone else.
Opened in 2008 by Her Majesty the Queen, this is one of the newest theatres in the UK and has quickly established itself as one of the country’s most popular venues. Sometimes referred to as ‘the inside-out theatre’, it has no traditional backstage area, meaning that the inner workings are on display to visitors, so you can see rehearsals, props, costumes and even actors heading off for their performance from their dressing rooms.
Shakespeare in and around Stratford-upon-Avon
The Bard’s power over the English language remains and there is no better place to learn about the master than where it all began. At Shakespeare’s Birthplace, intrigued minds can meet animals linked to Tudor times, have actors perform sonnets, enjoy a 20-minute version of Romeo and Juliet and discover what was inside Shakespeare’s toy box.
Elsewhere in the town, you can pay a visit to Hall’s Croft, where his daughter Susanna made her home; and don’t forget that Stratford-upon-Avon is where the Royal Shakespeare Company resides, so be sure to see one of their incredible performances if you have time.
West End Live, Trafalgar Square, London
If you find yourself spoilt for choice and not knowing which shows to see first, this free annual event is a great place to start. Every year for one weekend in June, the best of the West End converges in Trafalgar Square, meaning you can see performances from all the current musicals then contact Ten Concierge to buy tickets at great rates. Pictured top
West End Stage Summer School, Covent Garden, London
If you or someone you know has a burning desire to tread the boards, a week at the West End Stage summer school could be a fantastic opportunity to indulge their passion. Designed for children and young adults aged eight to 21, it gives the chance to learn at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, perform on a West End stage and be taught by West End stars and industry professionals, among many other wonderful experiences.
French’s Theatre Bookshop, Fitzrovia, London
Samuel French Ltd is an American company specialising in publishing and licensing scripts for theatre companies to perform. Its London outpost is in Fitzrovia and carries a vast selection of acting editions of plays as well as gifts, accessories, musical scores and books about playwrights and theatre history and technique. This is by far one of the best specialist bookshops in the country and you can easily lose yourself for a couple of hours once you’re in there – don’t say we didn’t warn you.