London’s West End is widely regarded as one the most prestigious and glamorous theatrical districts in the world, along with Broadway in New York, USA. In 2017, over 15 million attendees laughed, cried, sang and shouted at the stage in over 40 different majestic venues – some of which have origins going as far back as the 17th century. But there’s even more to London’s theatre scene than that, with an estimated 200-plus theatres operating across the UK’s capital every year.
Shakespeare’s Globe, Southwark
Although sadly not actually part of the West End, how could we not include this most historic of London theatres? A modern reconstruction (opened in 1917 and not 1719) of the original 1599 building, it hosts both original versions and contemporary retellings of Shakespeare’s plays throughout the Summer months.
A fitting legacy to the greatest of Bards, who actually paid 12.5% of construction costs out of his own pocket, Shakespeare’s Globe is a must see for theatre fans visiting the UK’s capital city. If you’re visiting in the Winter months, fear not – Shakespeare’s Globe is open all year round for tours and educational courses and events.
The Old Vic, Waterloo
Not only is this iconic 1818-built venue one of the most famous and storied performance spaces in the whole of Europe, if not the world, it’s also a registered charity that operates on an entirely not-for-profit basis. The star power of this legendary place is undeniable; in 2019 they’ve had children’s author and campaigner Michael Rosen, Harry Potter child star turned theatre darling Daniel Radcliffe, Andrew Scott (of Fleabag and Sherlock fame) and Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits. Not bad!
However, all those celebrity names do sometimes come with controversy, and the The Old Vic was at the center of it in 2015 after the predatory actions of it’s disgraced former director Kevin Spacey came to light. Still, they dealt with the public furor in a calm and efficient manor, and today The Vic remains one of the most visited theatres in London.
The London Palladium, Soho
One of the most eclectic venues in the capital, The London Palladium is best known for hosting The Royal Variety Performance over 40 times. Built in 1910, over the years the Palladium has hosted a who’s who of the entertainment bizz – from jazz icon Louis Armstrong and legendary comic duo Laurel & Hardy to wartime singer Vera Lyn and the incredible escape artist and illusionist Harry Houdini. It was also influential in launching the career of one of the UK’s most-loved entertainers Bruce Forsyth, who cut his stage chops on the Palladium’s stage hosting Saturday Night at The Palladium in the 1950s – which was one of the most popular shows of its era.
Today this Grade II listed theatre is widely recognised as the venue of the best pantomime shows in the UK, featuring such stars as Julian Clary, Dawn French, Cliff Richard and Paul O’Grady. Covering stories from Aladdin to Snow White and 2019’s Goldilocks and The Three Bears, these shows are some of the best family fun you can have in London – and a uniquely British institution to boot.