London must be THE city for theatres. Try counting the number of west end theatres and then multiplying the number of seats they have and adding those in fringe venues, outer London, pubs ............. mind boggling!
This page ISN'T about what's
on/recommended, venue facilities or how to get (preferably cheap)
There are other sites that deal with this vast subject much better such as www.whatsonstage.com www.theatremonkey.com www.seatplan.com or www.londontheatre.co.uk Instead I have put together some information if your interest goes beyond watching a performance.
THE NATIONAL THEATRE
The foyers are open Monday - Saturday 9:30am - 11pm and performance Sundays 12-6. The Lyttelton Lounge (level 1) is a place to explore the National Theatres past and present. Browse exclusive digital content from the Archive, including interviews, prompt scripts and early recordings. This can be accessed on your own smartphone, tablet or laptop, or you can borrow an iPad from the Bookshop downstairs. There are sometimes exhibitions, some on theatrical subjects. Additionally there is a permanent exhibition on the National's history 'Stage by Stage' in the Olivier Circle Gallery (rather tucked away - ask if you can't find it!). There are regular 'Platforms' usually at 6pm with actors, directors, authors etc (charge). The bookshop on the ground floor has books on all aspects of theatre plus playtexts and other items. Backstage tours are available daily plus specialist architecture and costume tours on some days (charge) Tel 020 7452 3400. The Sherling High-level Walkway (access from the Dorfman Theate foyer) allows you to view work in the backstage workshops. A separate website covers many aspects of the productions [click here]. The Archive (near the Old Vic) is usually open to researchers Monday, Tuesday and Wedenesday 10 - 5 and Thursday 12-8, by appointment only. Tel 020 7452 3135
This is a place that has it all. There is an excellent exhibition (charge but discount with theatre ticket) which includes a tour of the theatre space when not in use. There is an extensive education programme and a Friends organisation which offer lots of extras. Special event days with free activities are held including Twelfth Night (Jan) Shakespeare's Birthday (April) and Sam's Day (June). Post performance sessions follow some matinee performances (free but booking recommended) and walks around the area are sometimes scheduled (charge). And remember for a £5 'groundling' ticket you can really be part of it. You may also like to consider becoming a volunteer steward tel 020 7902 1480 for details.
Shakespeare's Globe Library & Archive holds various editions of plays by Shakespeare and his contempories, documents on 16th & 17th century England, theatre history, information on the reconstruction of the Globe, Playboxes for all past performances and audio/video archive. Open Tue - Thurs 10:30-4 to bona fide researchers. Tel 020 7902 1580
The site of the original Globe is marked in Park Street by paving, a plaque and information boards. The remains of the Rose opposite are sealed under the building and are occasionally open to the public. The site has recently been awarded a blue plaque [website].
ROYAL ACADEMY OF DRAMATIC ART
RADA was founded in 1904 and moved to Gower Street the following year. Between 1997-2000 the premises were redeveloped to provide three theatres plus workshops, teaching & administrative facilities. The foyer includes the RADA Bar which is open to the public and the corner stage is used for music, readings and performances on some evenings. Details are in the season's programme which also features theatre productions by students. Tickets for these can be purchased from the box office tel 020 7908 4800. Photographs of current acting students are on display and through the glass floor is a view of the workshops. The signage, using quotes from well known plays, was designed & executed by two RCA graduates. Tours of RADA, led by current students, are available (charge) tel 020 7908 4737.
ROYAL OPERA HOUSE Covent Garden
Between 10am and 3:30pm Monday - Saturday the Royal Opera House is open to visitors. A 'Daytime Visitors Guide' should be available with additional information. There are displays of photos, costumes etc. Backstage tours are available (charge).
I have routes around Southwark and Blackfriars with a theatres theme and my Covent Garden and Hoxton walks include a number of sites [walks list]
There is a book of 'London Theatre Walks' by Jim Deyoung
As well as those mentioned above tours are offered at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane (tel 020 7494 5091), Royal Albert Hall, Hackney Empire (tel 020 8985 2424), Old Vic and Richmond.
It is sometimes possible to arrange tours for groups - contact the theatre direct to enquire. See also [webpage]
OPEN HOUSE WEEKEND
This event takes place in mid-September giving the public access to 100's of London's buildings including theatres [website]
A number of theatres have 'Friends' organisations which offer extras such as backstage tours and special events as well as priority booking and some discounts. These include Shakespeare's Globe, Old Vic, Regents Park Open Air [website] and venues in the Ambassadors Group. Check out the website of your favourite theatre.
Additionally these theatres offer a number of educational events for adults and children. Details can be found in their programme or on the websites.
London's Theatres by Mike Kilburn & Alberto Arzoz
The Great Theatres of London by Ronald Bergen, Robyn Karney & Jane Burnard
Scene/Unseen by Susie Barson
The following hold theatrical material if you are interested in further research.
Westminster Reference Library, 35 St Martin's Street, WC2H 7HP. Tel: 020 7641 4636. Open Mon - Fri 10-8 & Sat 10-5. [website]
Westminster Archives [website]
The V&A has a gallery with the material previously displayed at the Theatre Museum [website]
The London Metropolitan Archives were awarded funds to conserve 3000 plans for 27 West End theatres which they now hold in their collections [website]
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