What show(s) should I see in London?
March 18, 2011 11:13 AM   Subscribe

I will be in London on business in late April, and would like to see at least one play or musical while I'm there. Can you please recommend a good (or critically-acclaimed) play or musical, or a website where I can find recommendations? I'll be there alone and will be looking for individual tickets - is it likely I'll be able to get singles for sold-out shows on the day of? Thanks for your help!
posted by smilingtiger to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Would you like a British musical, because a lot of the West End shows are imports from Broadway... Also, how do you feel about rock star musicals? I personally can't stand them, so I would discount We Will Rock You. Check out Time Out for more recommendations, but Les Miserables is always worth seeing.

Of the non-musicals, I would definitely go with War Horse - those puppets have to be seen to be believed! I also love The 39 Steps, but it depends entirely on whether you're a fan of the Hitchcock film.

If you're into the more cultural side of things, top-notch avant garde theatre troupe Kneehigh have adapted The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. I haven't seen it yet, but I've seen a lot of their earlier works and they have all been spectacular.

As a rule of thumb, you should definitely book in advance for shows with short runs, but the semi-permanent shows including all the big musicals usually have tickets on the day.
posted by dumdidumdum at 11:53 AM on March 18, 2011

Psst: the "War Horse" link points to the "Les Miserables" web site.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:55 AM on March 18, 2011

Singles tend to be easy almost anywhere (well not the Concertgebouw.)
posted by leafwoman at 12:02 PM on March 18, 2011

Response by poster: dumdidumdum, I'm open to Broadway musicals, and not crazy about rock-star ones. I've seen Les Mis, Phantom and the Lloyd Webber musicals that preceded it, but would be interested in newer ones (if they're good, of course). Thanks for the recs!
posted by smilingtiger at 12:05 PM on March 18, 2011

A few years ago I had no problems getting a day-of single ticket to a show in London. I was going to go for serious, but instead I went to Spamalot which was the most fun EVER. Seriously, how often does an entire audience leave the theater singing in unison?
posted by bluedaisy at 12:43 PM on March 18, 2011

I would see Billy Elliot rather than a Broadway import, a jukebox musical, or one of the ones that's been running over 20 years. I also like Time Out for recommendations - don't always agree with them but always find them worth reading. Tickets are probably easier to get on weekdays than weekends, but I'm not sure if anything's sold out right now. Especially for one ticket, you can frequently get good seats from the half-price booth (use the official one in Leicester Square, not one of the small ones nearby), so you could see more than one show if you have time. You can see what's available on their website.

TheatreMonkey is really helpful for finding the theaters.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 1:19 PM on March 18, 2011

Best answer: Two more thoughts - it's definitely worth picking up a Time Out at the newsstand when you get there; there are a lot of little short-runs that aren't necessarily on their website. And the people working the windows in the half-price booth are very knowledgeable about everything running. You might try asking them what they recommend, either for that night, or when you're buying one show ask what else they recommend for a future night.

Have fun!
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 1:34 PM on March 18, 2011

Best answer: Frankenstein is sold out ("Only Day Tickets and returns are available. "), but I'd try to go see either that or War Horse.
posted by mogget at 2:00 PM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh hell yes, see Frankenstein if you can get a seat.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 2:02 PM on March 18, 2011

Best answer: Yes, nthing Danny Boyles' Frankenstein! Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch swap the roles of Doctor and Creature with each performance, which adds an extra layer of interest.

I've also seen Andy Nyman and Jeremy 'League of Gentlemen' Dyson's Ghost Stories twice now, and loved it so much I may go again. So much fun.
posted by hot soup girl at 3:03 PM on March 18, 2011

I was in London last May with a theater class... Definitely nth the War Horse and 39 Steps suggestions. I had seen very few plays before I went to London so I'm no theater buff but I loved the War Horse (amazing puppets) and 39 Steps was so funny! 39 Steps was playing at the Criterion Theater when I was there. A few kids were really excited about seeing Blood Brothers on our free days.
posted by lovelygirl at 3:37 PM on March 18, 2011

Response by poster: Wonderful recommendations! Thank you! I hope I can get a ticket to Frankenstein when I'm there, and War Horse looks amazing too.
posted by smilingtiger at 3:52 PM on March 18, 2011

There is tons of good theatre on. Time Out Critics' choices can be found here.

You might be able to get a ticket to Frankenstein if you sell a kidney. It is white hot. I got priority booking for some seats the other day and the sold out within minutes. As others have said: returns only. They do have matinees during the week so it's worth a crack.

The Children's Hour is excellent, but likely to be sold out. Keira Knightley is the least good thing about it, but it has some quality acting in it.

Clybourne Park is getting rave reviews. Not seen it, but not seen a bad review of it either.

I've seen some good reviews for The 25th Annual Putnam Spelling Bee, although TO doesn't rate it as highly.

The Knot of the Heart at the Almeida is picking up good reviews and its challenging subject means you're less likely to get the popcorn crowd, so tickets will be a bit easier to come by. Similarly, Ecstasy at the Hampstead Theatre is out of the way and the play is a bit grueling - but is reviewed as excellent.

Flying under the radar, Flare Path is also getting strong reviews. The focus is on Sienna Miller, but Sheridan Smith, who is also in it, has just bagged an Olivier award and is arguably London's hottest domestic theatre actress at the moment. As a bonus, it as at the Haymarket Theatre, which is lovely.

War Horse is excellent. However, if you plan to come back to London in the near future I'd be surprised if War Horse wasn't still on. It's been a fixture for some years now.
posted by MuffinMan at 4:02 AM on March 19, 2011

Response by poster: Hi all, just wanted to update and let you know that I managed to get in to see Frankenstein (I only had to wait in line for four hours) and it was absolutely amazing - well worth the wait and the 42 pounds. I only wish that I could see it again with the actors playing the opposite roles - would have been fascinating.

Thanks again for all your advice!!
posted by smilingtiger at 1:17 PM on April 28, 2011

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