Home to some of the world’s greatest playwrights, London’s theatres have long been acclaimed. With everything from ballet to musicals, opera to murder mysteries, there’s something on the stage for everyone. We’ve compiled a list of five of London’s most historic theatres: their histories are almost as dramatic as the plays they host, filled with fires, ghosts and feuds.
1. Shakespeare’s Globe
Shakespeare’s Globe is a 20th century reincarnation of the original 16th century Globe Theatre which was built by Shakespeare’s playing company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, in 1599. It is located in Southwark, on the banks of the River Thames.
Grab a £5 groundling ticket if you can face a marathon 3 hours standing to watch a play during the summer season, enjoy a drink at the bar on a summer’s evening or go on a tour of the theatre in the winter months – it’s fascinating and a great glimpse behind the scenes you would never otherwise get.
2. Theatre Royal, Drury Lane
The Theatre Royal, Drury Lane is the fourth incarnation of this theatre on the same spot, making it the oldest theatre site in London still in use. It remains a thriving cultural hub, staging productions of major musicals in more recent years.
Performances still take place almost nightly at the Theatre Royal – cheap on the day tickets can normally be found from booths around central London, or look online in advance if you want to plan a trip.
3. Royal Opera House
Home of the Royal Opera and the Royal Ballet, Covent Garden’s Royal Opera House is one of England’s most iconic performing arts venues, and has an illustrious history.
The first theatre on this site was the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, which was awarded letters patent by King Charles II in 1662: however, it was only actually built in the 18th century, following the financial success of The Beggars’ Opera. The new Theatre Royal opened in 1732 with a production entitled The Way of the World.
The ROH remains very much in operation, and tickets are still sought after in many cases. There are assorted performances with cheaper tickets (although some do involve standing seats) if you’d like to experience the magic of the inner auditorium they way it was intended – red velvet, lots of gilt and tremendous acoustics.
4. Sadler’s Wells Theatre
Sadler’s Wells was first opened by Richard Sadler in 1683 – London’s second public theatre to open following the restoration of King Charles II in 1660. It was originally a ‘musick house’, and the name stemmed from a spring found near by. Sadler claimed its iron-rich water could cure all manner of ills and as such, Sadler’s Wells began drawing a variety of clientele who wanted both the healing water and the music that the theatre offered.
The now sixth incarnation of the theatre remains an extremely popular venue, and hosts a wide variety of dance shows regularly – from contemporary fusion to traditional ballet. Tickets are sought after so it’s worth booking ahead if you’d like to catch a performance.
5. The Old Vic
The Old Vic was originally founded in 1818 by James King and Daniel Dunn. With the patronage of Princess Charlotte and Prince Leopold, it was named the Royal Coburg Theatre although without letters patent, it was technically forbidden to show serious drama but in 1824, legendary actor Edmund Kean performed six Shakespeare plays in six nights, bringing high art to the masses.
The Old Vic has regular performances – tickets often sell out far in advance so it’s worth being organised. There are normally a handful of cheap tickets for every performance, some of which are released on the day.