There are many reasons to go and visit London. Like many European destinations, they’ve got some of the best museums from The National Gallery — where you will see some wonderful pieces by Joseph Turner and Peter Paul Reubens and the impressionists like Van Goh and Georges Seurat — to the Tate Modern, where you will see some brilliant modern art pieces. There’s Buckingham Palace and the Big Ben and Hyde Park.
It’s not that intimidating, either, since they have made getting a visa so much easier with their automated online system that makes the process much easier and you’re bound to get your passport back in around 10 days. There are also direct flights being offered by PAL and trust me, you’re going to want to take a direct flight. It’s a 14-hour flight (but on my recent trip, our pilot was able to do it for 13 and 12 hours going to and coming back, respectively). It’s a long haul, but it’s better than having a lay-over somewhere and spending more time in transit than enjoying your London trip.
But if you want to make your London trip so much more memorable and enriching, it’s also great to go to London to watch some of the best theater productions you’ll ever get to see. The first thing in your mind when it comes to watching plays is Broadway in New York but London is as much comparable to the famous New York tourist spot. I’ve never been to New York, but a lot of my friends who do go say that many of the Broadway shows cater to a larger tourist market but London comes off as a more theater-oriented city.
In the underground train station system (called the tube), the walls are all plastered with posters for the latest shows that are currently staged in the city. For every five or ten posters of a show, there’d be one poster for a movie. While I was on the train, I overheard two people talking about a show they just watched. When I saw shows, you’d see people of all types in the theater from students to professionals, from tourists to much older folk.
I just recently came from a London trip courtesy of the Lunchbox Theatrical Productions, who have brought shows like ‘The Lion King’ and ‘Phantom of the Opera’ to Solaire, to just watch plays, and it’s such a wonderful experience that this is definitely something I’m going to save up for so I can do it again on my own.
So here are some tips if you’re interested in taking a London vacation theater marathon.
Tip #1: London is expensive
London is a first-world country and it shows in the price tags of everything from transport to food. The exchange rate of Philippine peso to London pounds is quite high so save up before you go.
What I did to save on meals was to eat a very heavy breakfast at the hotel buffet, which comes for free in the hotel I was billeted in, and I’d skip lunch (or have a light sandwich) and just eat dinner. It helped stretch my pocket money much farther.
Tip #2: Buy your theater tickets online before you leave
Like I said, theater seems to be ingrained in the culture of the city. Shows, especially the good ones, get sold out quickly. Once you have your dates for travel, go online and search for the shows you want to see and buy your tickets online already so that you don’t miss out on any show. There were many shows that we wanted to see but they were sold out so we couldn’t get tickets on the day itself. Lucky for us, our itinerary was already set and we got a lot of tickets ahead of time.
Tip #3: Sundays are your free day
Plays run from Monday to Saturday. Some plays have two shows in one day — a matinee and a gala — but they usually take a break on Sundays. So there are no shows on Sunday. You could use that day to take a breather, explore the city, go shopping, or just take a day off to let everything you’ve seen to sink in.
Tip #4: Diversify your shows
There are over 35 West End venues in the city. West End is the term for theaters found in the west end part of London and they stage commercial shows, usually popular musicals. But there are also plenty of fringe theaters like The Old Vic that put out brilliant straight plays like the one I saw at the Dormar Warehouse called ‘Europe,’ where I saw Natalia Tena, who was in ‘Game of Thrones’ and the Harry Potter films.
Mix your shows with straight plays and musicals. Comedies and dramas. And if there’s a production of Shakespeare, go and watch one. It’s really different when you see it performed there.
Tip #5: Dress Comfortably
London is much, much colder than the Philippines. I went during their summer and while some fo the locals are in t-shirts and shorts, I was wrapped in two layers of clothing. But the city is has put a lot of money to keeping its citizens comfortable so the tube is heated and so are many of their shops and buildings.
Also, you don’t have to dress up for the theater. There were people in shorts and t-shirts. Even the theaters are heated as well, so I took off my jacket when I would watch shows.
Also, London is famous for its rain, even during summer. Bring shoes that can get wet, even just as an option.
Watching plays in London is a totally different experience than watching plays here in Manila. They have bars in the theater and you can bring your drinks in while watching shows whether its a soda or a glass of wine. They start on time, so be at the theater a good twenty or thirty minutes before the show starts. And standard theater rules apply with regards to your cellphone. Keep it shut at all times and you cannot take photos or video of the production, but you can take photos of the stage before the play begins. Some shows will allow you to take photos of the curtain call — when the cast does their final bows. I always ask the ushers if I can, just to be sure.
And if you are up for it, you can wait outside the theater to catch the actors as they leave and you can ask them to sign your merchandise or take a selfie with them. Some actors are open to this and friendly while others would just beg off and walk away. It depends on the artist and it’s not an offense if they prefer to keep to themselves.
A trip to London has to include at least a trip to the theater. Be it a fringe show or a popular West End production, this has got to be on your to-do list if you’re ever going to this vibrant and wonderful city.