It used to be known as the “theatre district” or “London’s West End”, the epicentre of the live theatre world. I did my first “theatre tour” of London in 1984, dragging my oh-so-patient husband, Tom, from one production to another afternoon and evenings. One of the most delicious details about the area is that matinees are presented on more than just one afternoon a week, making it possible to truly immerse yourself in live productions, afternoon and evenings.
In one week we saw Agatha Christie’s “Mousetrap” still the longest running theatre production at St.Martin’s Theatre, Oscar-winning actor Peter O’Toole in a revival of “Pygmalion” at the Shaftesbury Theatre, and, of course, a Shakespeare play, and Tom Conti, one of my personal favourites in the comedy, “The Italian Straw Hat.”
Theatre in London can trace its roots to the 16th century when James Burbage constructed his Shoreditch Theatre, known simply as “the theatre,” in 1576. It is said that even the bard, Shakespeare himself, was a member of an acting troupe known as Lord Chamberlain’s Men who played in Burbage’s original theatre. For such a long history it is difficult to imagine that for most of the 19th century there were only 3 licensed playhouses in the city, now there are 42 commercial West End theatres and several more not-for-profit organizations mounting productions. There is also plenty of history in the theatres themselves, most of which date from the 1930’s and are homage to over-the-top décor and glamour
How did this historical treasure come to be known as “Theatre land?” The Westminster Council, a few years back decided it would be good to rebrand the image and hence “theatre land” was born. The area still abounds movie theatres and restaurants and little bistros all prepared to serve meals quickly so that curtain times can be promptly met.
Another delicious quirk of London’s theatres is “the interval” or what most North American’s call the intermission. Those in the know will prepay for their drinks in the snug little bars that adjoin the auditoriums, so in quick time you can stretch your legs and refresh with a beverage before returning for the final act. And, if you don’t feel like straying from your seat vendors frequent the “stalls” selling chocolates and ice creams.
The ever-changing dynamics of live theatre contribute in no small portion to the overall dynamic of this special neighbourhood. In the 1980’s it was all about the musical, mostly those of Andrew Lloyd Webber, the 1990’s ushered in an era of serious subjects such as AIDS. The turn of the millennium has brought a resurgence of the musical with a wide range of styles being addressed. The West End season for the year 2012 included productions of “Rock of Ages,” a love story set to the soundtrack of music from the 1980’s; “Backbeat, the story of the Beatles,” “Mamma Mia,” Abba’s classic tunes wrapped around an extremely silly story; “We will rock you,” a Queen song celebration. There are also vintage classics like “Crazy for you,” and “Singing in the Rain.” No enough music. There are also productions of “Matilda, the Musical,” “Jersey Boys,” “Ghost, the Musical,” ‘Les Miserable’s,” “Stomp,” “Disney’s The Lion King,” and “Thriller, Live.”
So pack your bags, book an airplane seat and head to London, THE city of 2012 and immerse yourself in “theatre land.” Save on your ticket costs by heading to Half Price Theatre Tickets from the clock tower in the heart of Leicester Square.