A Brief Guide To Theatre

A Brief Guide To Theatre

The world of theatre can be intimidating. It’s notorious for being a closed-off, exclusive world that thrives on nepotism and word-of-mouth – and moreover, it’s becoming an increasingly defensive entity, in the face of long-term funding cuts. Knowing what to see and where to go is a bit of a minefield, as there are thousands of companies selling their shows to you and at the end of a long day you don’t want to waste your time seeing something absolutely appalling.

So, we’ve compiled a guide for you, a step-by-step process or a brief guide to theatre that you can follow to make you a savvy-theatre-goer, and open all sorts of doors to you. It’s a world of emotion and excitement – and you can have it all.



5 keywords that you can’t do without – bear with us if you know these already!

  1. THE WEST END – An area in London around Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus. The most famous street of theatres in this area is Shaftesbury Avenue (WC2). Home to very rich, very commercial theatres of which the majority show or produce musicals. Example – The Garrick Theatre
  2. OFF-WEST END – Term ascribed to theatres that are based in Central London and that have high credibility. They produce work, both new writing and revivals of older shows, and can also play host to touring theatre and guest companies. Example – The Lyric Hammersmith
  3. FRINGE THEATRE – Often the most exciting part of the London theatre life, fringe theatres are those with a tiny capacity and often very little money. They produce and host, against the odds, raw and cutting-edge theatre – and although you can come up against some dross, more often than not investing in fringe theatre pays its dividends. Example – The New Diorama
  4. PREVIEWS – Term for very early showings of a new play or musical. Often with cheaper tickets because the cast are still getting into their stride. A great way to see great shows early at a reduced price.
  5. UNRESERVED SEATING – something that you should notice if this is written on your ticket. If the seating is unreserved, it’s a good idea to get there early to get a good view of the stage.
Most theatres in London have a website which will provide you with lots of information about their upcoming programme, visiting companies and ticket offers and deals. If the website has a mailing list, you can sign up to receive their weekly or monthly newsletters, and most have settings that you can change so you only receive the information you want. The one at the National is really comprehensive, but it’s worth doing the research into what other theatres have to offer. Twitter is another really good way to follow what theatres are doing – and you can group them into a list so that all their updates can’t clog up your feed. If you have cash to spare, becoming a member of certain theatres gets you priority booking and exclusive access to shows that are really in demand.
Reviews are an interesting one, there are lots of benefits to reading up on a show before you buy a ticket. It’s worth considering that the star-ratings system is really flawed, and sometimes it’s better to ignore the stars completely and really get into the nitty-gritty of what the review is saying. Why not also see who has directed it, who has written it – and what have these people done before? Are their previous works critically acclaimed? Have they made theatre in the past that appeals to your needs? Are there great actors in it? Stars can mislead you into thinking that something mediocre is worth going to, or worse, that something that you’ll really enjoy isn’t worth seeing.
Theatres that have small marketing campaigns or little or no money to spend on publicity still make great theatre. There are over 200 theatres in London, and perhaps 10 of these are known nationally. You could be missing out on some amazing stuff if you only go to theatres that you know of already, or to plays that are advertised on the Tube. Look out for the 30ish guide to lesser-known, exclusive events that will be spread all over Zones 1 and 2 – not just limited to the West End and the South Bank. You will be amazed at what you might find.

A final note. There’s lots of stuff about this at the moment, but really at the end of the day the best theatrical experience comes from keeping everyone in the room happy. So – don’t be late! It’s a pain for other audience members as well as for the actors on stage. Try to have your pre-show/post-show drinks in or near the theatre; the theatre makes more money than anything on this and can continue to make more great stuff in the future. Tell your friends if the play is good, and most of all, throw yourself into as much as possible, delve into as many genres as you can find (or we can find for you!).



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