With over 40 theatres in the West End, it’s no surprise that this is the cultural heart of London. With so much choice, we’ve selected some of our favourites…
Royal Opera House
The Royal Opera House was constructed in 1732 and it is known today for being the home of the Royal Opera, the Royal Ballet and the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House. Often referred to simply as ‘Covent Garden’, the current building is the third theatre on the site following disastrous fires in 1808 and 1856. The main auditorium dates from 1858 and its period character has been wonderfully preserved ever since; the rich red curtains of the stage, the glittering gold of the proscenium arch, the red and gold lights which once held old gas lamps – a beautiful setting befitting of world class opera, ballet and orchestral performances.
The Royal Opera House has played host to every world-renowned singer and dancer for over a century, including Pavarotti, Dame Joan Sutherland, Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev and, more recently, the captivating Carlos Acosta and Darcy Bussell. Current productions in the opera and ballet repertoire include Madam Butterfly, The Sleeping Beauty and La Traviata, meanwhile the venue’s smaller spaces – Linbury Studio Theatre and Clore Studio – offer a line-up of experimental and independent dance and music works.
The Donmar Warehouse
The Donmar Warehouse is a 251-seat theatre in Covent Garden that first opened in 1977 in a former hops warehouse and banana-ripening depot. Acquired initially by the Royal Shakespeare Company and used as the company’s rehearsal and studio space in London, the theatre became an independent production house in 1992 and now presents at least six productions a year.
The Donmar’s artistic output includes new writing, contemporary reappraisals of European classics, British and American drama and small-scale musical theatre. For a small theatre it punches above its weight in terms of the talent it attracts with many well-known actors appearing on its stage, including Nicole Kidman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ian McKellen and Ewan McGregor and in the coming months, Lenny Henry will make his debut on the Donmar stage in Brecht’s The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui.
The London Coliseum
The London Coliseum, known affectionately as ‘The Coli’, is on St Martin’s Lane and it was designed and built in the 1900s with the ambition of being the city’s largest and finest music and entertainment hall. Its large, ornate auditorium with rich, red velvet chairs and drapes and baroque-style decoration on the ceilings and walls remains largest theatre in London today.
Since the 70s, it has been the home of the English National Opera (ENO) and English National Ballet. Unlike the Royal Opera, ENO’s productions are sung exclusively in English. The company has staged all the major operas of Mozart, Wagner and Puccini, and a wide range of Verdi’s operas in English and attracted the brightest and best international artists to its stage. Current opera productions include Verdi’s Rigoletto and the wonderfully absurd, comic-opera The Pirates of the Caribbean by Gilbert and Sullivan.
The London Palladium
The London Palladium is on Argyll Street and it opened in 1910 as a venue for variety performances. Over a hundred years later, the venue is arguably the most famous theatre in London especially for musical variety shows. It has attracted names such as Sammy Davis Jr., Johnny Cash, Marvin Gaye and it is the theatre to which all performers aspire. It has been the home of hit musicals such as The Sound of Music and Oliver! as well as hosting more annual Royal Variety Performances than any other theatre. Upcoming performances at the theatre include Bob Dylan and his band and Beverley Knight.
Theatre Royal Drury Lane
The Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, commonly known as Drury Lane, has a long and illustrious history. A theatre has existed on the site since 1663, making the theatre the oldest in London and it has been visited by every monarch since the Restoration period. The theatre has two Royal boxes and it was here that the public first heard both the National Anthem and Rule Britannia.
The theatre has been home to a number of long-running musicals. Four Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals made their debuts in Drury Lane in the 50s and more recently, Miss Saigon ran for ten years at the theatre. The theatre is currently home to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, a musical adaptation of the well-loved children’s book by Roald Dahl.