Thursday, June 25, 2015

There's No Business Like Show Business

One of our favorite things to do in London is to attend shows, so we squeeze in as many as our time and our bank account permit!

This summer we started by making a list of shows we'd like to see, and then we prioritized them as Must See, Hopefully See, and Might See.  I started following Official London Theater on Twitter several months ago so that I would know which shows were on during our stay, and Josh regularly checks the Internet for theater updates as well.  

I had read that Bradley Cooper was planning a short run of The Elephant Man, and Josh read that Jonathan Pryce would be appearing in The Merchant of Venice.  Those quickly shot to the top of the Must See list along with War Horse (which Josh and I saw and loved in 2011), Matilda, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Knox has never seen Wicked, and Kinley wants to see Les Miserables, so those are on the Hopefully See list.  And our Might See list includes The Railway Children, Man of Steal, The Phantom of the Opera, American Buffalo, and Bend It Like Beckham.

Our first experience this trip was Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice at the rebuilt Globe Theater.  We knew that the Iambic Pentameter coupled with the hard bench seats would be difficult for the kids to endure, so we watched a short YouTube synopsis video made for kids before we went and rented seat cushions once we arrived.  The verdict?  We all really enjoyed it!  (And getting to see the High Septon do Shakespeare was pretty awesome.)
Groundling (standing) tickets are only £5, but I wasn't up for standing for three hours.  This is the view from Josh and Kinley's seats. 
Knox and I were seated farther up, but our seats had the bonus of built-in backs whereas Josh and Kinley were just on a bench.  We were all grateful that we had  paid the extra £1 each for seat cushion rental.

Next, we decided to check War Horse off our list.  One of the best-kept secrets in London (or any theater city, really) is that many shows offer cheap tickets the day of the show to the first people who show up to get them.  These are called Day Seats, and not all shows offer them.  I'm not talking about the Half Price Ticket Booth or returned tickets.  Day Seats are often front row seats that the theater sets aside for people willing to wait in line early in the morning to get them. There is even a website that lets you know which shows have Day Seats and what time you probably need to get in line to get them.

We got up early so that we could arrive at the New London Theater by 9:00 since the box office opens at 10:00.  We each took a book to read since we knew we'd be waiting at least an hour.
The girl on the left got there earlier and was first in line.  It was just the four of us in line until about 9:40 when several other people showed up to wait.

We ended up getting second row seats for £15 each instead of the published rate of £65 each.  War Horse didn't disappoint, and both kids loved it.  Knox especially enjoyed it since a recent visit to the Imperial War Museum has sparked his interest in World War I.

Next on the list was Matilda at the Cambridge Theater.  This show doesn't offer Day Seats, so we had to suck it up and pay full price.  We decided to take seats in the very back row to lessen the financial blow, and those were £25 each.  That ended up probably not being the best choice since we had to lean down to see some parts of the show and completely couldn't see a few things.  We wouldn't make that choice again.

The next show we planned to see was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  This is another show that doesn't offer Day Seats.  When we went to the theater to buy tickets a weeks ago, the nice lady there told us that they DO, however, change ticket prices at some point during the week.  For example, if sales are lagging, a ticket that might normally cost £69.50 might be just £49.50.  So we checked back on a Saturday just after they had changed ticket prices.  After our Matilda experience, we knew we didn't want the nosebleed section again, so we sprung for front row.  And they had been marked down to £49.50! 

And what a great experience we had!  At the beginning of the second act, Willy Wonka himself climbed out of the orchestra pit and practically into our laps as he stepped over our feet to walk across the front row!  He even spoke to Knox and me!  Such fun and worth every penny.

Next came three grown-ups-only shows - The Audience with Kristen Scott Thomas, American Buffalo with John Goodman, and The Elephant Man with Bradley Cooper.

The doctor from Downton Abbey played one of the Prime Ministers in The Audience.

John Goodman was who we came to see, but that guy from Homeland and Band of Brothers was in it, too.
The verdict?  The Audience was fabulous!  I know that Helen Mirren just won a a Tony for her performance in this show, but I truly can't imagine how she is better than Kristin Scott Thomas.  This was my favorite performance of the summer so far.  Love. Love. Love.

American Buffalo was not awesome.  There was a prodigious amount of cussing (not surprising since it was a David Mamet play), and nothing really happened other than a lot of talk about a robbery that never actually occurs.  Being on the front row was exciting, but not exciting enough to make the play worth seeing.

The Elephant Man was entertaining and enlightening.  (And, of course, shirtless Bradley Cooper is always a good thing.). The only negative part was that the ending is kind of an anticlimactic downer.  (Plus, Cooper starts wearing clothes in the second act.  Major bummer.)

We only have two weeks left to see anything else we can squeeze in, so Josh and Kinley are going to get in line Tuesday morning for Day Seats for Wicked leaving only Les Mis from our top picks.  On with the show!


  1. Well, I'll never be jealous of British food, but I am jealous of all that British theatre. How fabulous!!!

    1. But remember, Northern Ireland counts as Britain and they have AMAZING food (but no theatre). 😋