Making the Most of the Theatre in London

We'll be in London for a few days over the holidays and as usual I'm looking forward to cramming too much theatre into the short time we have. In fact I've bought tickets for far too many shows already! We'll be seeing Mark Rylance in the all male Twelfth Night which has transferred from The Globe, John Lithgow in The Magistrate at the National and Francis de la Tour in  People Alan Bennet's new play also at the National Theatre.

It is extraordinary how much cross fertilization there is between Broadway and London, though the predominant direction in plays seems to be from London to New York. We saw Alan Bennet's last play The History Boys in New York after missing the sold out run in London and saw Rylance in his extraordinary performance in Jerusalem also as a Broadway transfer. However, the flow is not all one way. On our last trip to London we saw the Duchess of Malfi at the Old Vic revitalize under Kevin Spacey's leadership, and we're looking forward  to seeing the American actor John Lithgow on our upcoming visit. 

Mark Rylance as Olivia in Twelfth Night
Mark Rylance as Olivia in the 2002 Production of Twelfth Night at the Globe,  photo credit here.

Six Tips to Help you Make the Most of the Theatre in London

I can't tell you what to see because with the exception of the Mousetrap (the longest running play) the options are constantly changing. We love the theatre but don't go to see musicals however, the resources listed below  should apply to most theatrical shows.

Read  Local Reviewers. 

Look at the online listings in Timeout and see what The Times, The Telegraph and  The Guardian are saying about upcoming shows. 

Look Beyond the West End. 
If you're interested in serious theatre make sure to check shows beyond the West End and to check them in advance. We often find a show is sold out by the time the reviews come in and consequently take a risk by buying before the previews. We always look at what's on at the National Theatre, The Old Vic, The Donmar Warehouse, The Almeida and The Royal Court. There are more places to consider but these are a good start! A few years ago we saw Eddie Redmayne and Alfred Molina in Red at the Donmar before it made a highly acclaimed transfer to New York. It was fantastic to see such a great performance in such an intimate space, an opportunity we wouldn't have had on this side of the pond. 
Theatre Monkey is  worth checking to ensure you have chosen the right seats. There is a lot of information about each venue with advice on seating and how to get the best value. It's particularly helpful if you're considering restricted view seats and lets you know where it's worth spending extra and where it's best not to bother. There is also advice on the tricky business of ticket agents and their added fees, it's a good place to check before you decide to buy that expensive pair of tickets online.

The Magistrate by Arthur Wing Pinero, illustration by Gerald Scarfe
Promotional image for The Magistrate by Arthur Wing Pinero at The National Theatre. 
This is my go to site for both New York and London theatre tickets. It's just the best place to find any and all discount codes without being driven to expensive touts or being required to sign up for "special" emails.

In addition to the TKS booth in Leicester Square (offering half price tickets for same day performances) there are  day tickets available at the National Theatre as well as at many West End box offices. Make sure to take advantage of concessions which are often more generous in London than you would find them in the US. There maybe reduced prices for anyone under 26. Look out for the Travelex series at The National where tickets are only 12 pounds.

Preferred Seating.
At the National make sure to click through for preferred seating if you have an American Express card. For the upcoming run of People there were no tickets available until I clicked through for the preferred seating. Although the cheaper seats were already sold we were able to get tickets for the evening I was hoping for.

I hope this helps, I'll let you know if we enjoy the three shows we'll be seeing at the end of the year! 

What are you going to see on your next trip?