Visitors to London are often surprised by the large number of advertisements they see for theatre performances. There are probably more theatres in London than any other capital city.
And the surprise is not just in the quantity; the range of entertainments on offer is absolutely staggering. In London alone, you can choose straight theatre (drama), musicals, comedy, variety, opera, ballet, dance, alternative/experimental, musical concerts, pop concerts, circus, even street theatre, juggling or mime. The list goes on and on!
British theatre is also healthy in the rest of the country with many regional theatres providing an excellent programme of entertainment throughout the year. Let us explore some of the major British theatre trends which may attract visitors.
Not an art form known elsewhere, the pantomime season starts the theatre year in a very British way. Almost every theatre in the country has some form of panto., very much aimed at a family audience. It seems to be in a revival at present – we all need some fun these days!
Years ago the major musicals came from America and were transferred to the British stage. Nowadays the trend is the other way around. British musicals are very much in demand. Many of the great British musicals are still in performance both in London and the provincial theatres. Straight to mind come “Les Miserables”, “Cats”, “Phantom of the Opera”. More recently there has been a revival of the “Rocky Horror” phenomenon and “Spamalot” has added music to Monty Python.
The repertory system in British theatres has long been a good way of introducing new plays to the public, whilst ensuring income with known draws. The National Theatre continues this system with a season of various plays over a number of weeks. Theatregoers can usually choose from new plays by known writers, Restoration revivals or classics such as Shaw or Ibsen.
The Chichester Festival, in Sussex runs through the summer and is a unique introduction to the best of modern theatre.
A similar pattern is followed by the regional theatres. The Bristol Old Vic, the Crucible in Sheffield, The Belgrade in Coventry, for example, all provide a repertoire of straight theatre to suit all tastes.
Probably the best known “music fest” in the world is the Proms. Held in the Royal Albert Hall and certain other venues around London, this two-month long musical treat covers a huge variety of serious music.
There is a wide choice of concerts and performances everywhere. The major opera and ballet companies travel the country and perform in a number of the larger provincial theatres. Each summer you can catch a performance by the Royal Opera or Ballet in Plymouth, Bristol, Newcastle or Manchester.
In Birmingham and Manchester (and often nearby city venues) the Birmingham Symphony and the Halle orchestras (respectively) have been providing world class concerts for many years and are just as popular currently.
Britain’s great gift to world theatre, Shakespeare’s plays should be seen by everyone at least once in their theatre-going life. The prime venue must be the RSC theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon. Each year a season of Shakespeare is presented, often in new and provocative ways. The theatre itself is a joy and the town is delightful.
The RSC also has a London venue during the summer, although the theatre can vary.
For that genuine Shakespearean experience, it has to be the Globe. On the South Bank in London, open to the sky like the original, the Globe brings the Bard right up to the audience in an unforgettable manner. If you only attend one theatre, make it the Globe!