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Musicals and theatre in London

Theatre reviews, tickets and offers – it’s your one-stop guide to plays and musicals in the West End and the best shows in London.

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London theatres given green light to reopen in August
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London theatres given green light to reopen in August

It’s fair to say that the outlook for London’s theatres has been a little gloomy throughout all of this. Their doors have remained closed since lockdown began in March, and while other industries have made a start on their return – from retail to hospitality – it’s been harder for the theatre world to envisage a comeback. Well, in the latest dramatic move from the government, theatres can now start setting their sights on a return, with a reopening date of August 1 shared ambitiously in the prime minister’s press conference today (Friday July 17).  Boris Johnson told the public that remaining leisure settings would be allowed to reopen from Saturday August 1, including bowling alleys, ice-skating rinks, casinos and, of course, theatres.  ‘From August 1, we will restart live indoor performances to a live audience, subject to the success of pilots, and we will pilot larger gatherings with a view to a wider reopening in the autumn,’ said Johnson.  Secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport Oliver Dowden confirmed the news on social media, saying the return of indoor performances at theatres would be contingent on pilots being held with the London Symphony Orchestra and other organisations.  From 1 August socially distanced audiences can return for indoor performances in theatres, music halls and other venues. This builds on pilots with @londonsymphony and others. So pleased to make progress to Stage 4 of our road map for culture. pic.twitter.com/Js7dQUghZ6

The best theatre to watch online right now
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The best theatre to watch online right now

The show must go on…line! Here’s how to keep watching

National Theatre Live: the full streaming schedule
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National Theatre Live: the full streaming schedule

One of the highlights of lockdown so far

Free Shakespeare plays streaming from The Globe
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Free Shakespeare plays streaming from The Globe

Highbrow at home

The Royal Opera House’s live streaming schedule
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The Royal Opera House’s live streaming schedule

Tip-toeing onto your screens

The best theatre streaming right now

National Theatre Live: ‘Les Blancs’
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National Theatre Live: ‘Les Blancs’

Lorraine Hansberry was an African-American playwright who died tragically young, aged just 34, in 1965. In her short career, she became the first African-American female writer to be performed on Broadway. Her last play, ‘Les Blancs’, which she didn’t live to see produced, is the latest in the National Theatre’s At Home season, streaming from Thursday July 2 for a week for free. ‘Les Blancs’ (‘The Whites’) is a rumination on Black identity… and so much more. Hansberry’s only work to be set in Africa, it’s sprawling, sometimes abstract, sometimes deeply personal. Find out more here. 

The Old Vic: ‘The Greatest Wealth’
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The Old Vic: ‘The Greatest Wealth’

We all love the NHS, but the last few months have crystalised just how invaluable the institution is. To show its appreciation for everything those in the service have done at this time of national crisis, the Old Vic is broadcasting a series of specially commissioned monologues celebrating the NHS called ‘The Greatest Wealth’, plus a new play written by Booker Prize-winning author Bernadine Evaristo. Find out more here. 

‘Fleabag’
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‘Fleabag’

‘Fleabag’ has returned, but this time, it’s to raise funds for three UK charities on the front line of the coronavirus pandemic. Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s West End theatre show is available to stream on Soho Theatre’s on-demand site and Amazon Prime Video (US, UK). It costs £4 (or more if you can afford it), and the proceeds will be split between National Emergencies Trust (NET), NHS Charities Together and Acting for Others. Remember, people are all we’ve got. 

Dance and workshops from Sadler’s Wells
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Dance and workshops from Sadler’s Wells

London’s most famous dance theatre is laying on a free programme of work, including full productions and dance workshops.

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Latest theatre reviews

‘Pretty Woman: The Musical’ review

‘Pretty Woman: The Musical’ review

Yes, it is a big mistake. Yes, it is a huge mistake…

Time Out says
1 out of 5 stars
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‘The Prince of Egypt’ review

‘The Prince of Egypt’ review

‘The Prince of Egypt’ is the plucky, earnest underdog of ’90s animated movies…

Time Out says
3 out of 5 stars
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‘Les Misérables’ review

‘Les Misérables’ review

I would seriously question whether any other show on the planet bar ‘Les Misérables’ could get away with junking its original production and carrying on as if nothing had changed…

Time Out says
4 out of 5 stars
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‘Magic Goes Wrong’ review

‘Magic Goes Wrong’ review

Erstwhile young scamps Mischief Theatre have spun their pleasant ‘Noises Off’ knock-off ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’ into a veritable empire…

Time Out says
3 out of 5 stars
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The best London theatres

Old Vic

Old Vic

The combination of double-Oscar winner Kevin Spacey and top producer David Liddiment at this 200-year-old Waterloo theatre continues to be a commercial success – though Spacey's controversial artistic leadership has frequently come under critical fire. Still, the Old Vic's a great place to catch high-profile actors – Ian McKellen, Robert Lindsay and Neve Campbell have all trod its boards. David Mamet's 'Speed-the-Plow' thrilled audiences in 2008 and was followed by a winning revival of Alan Ayckbourn's 'The Norman Conquests' – a show that saw the venue spectacularly remodeled into a theatre-in-the-round. Summer 2009 heralded the first of Sam Mendes's The Bridge Projects, an Anglo-American collaboration between Mendes, the Old Vic and Joseph V Melillo's Brooklyn Academy of Music, that enticed Ethan Hawke to the British stage for its Shakespeare/Chekhov double bill.

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National Theatre

National Theatre

The concrete-clad, 1960s modernist grandmother of them all: no theatrical tour of London is complete without a visit to the National, whose three auditoriums – Olivier, Lyttelton and Cottesloe – offer a rolling repertory programme, often with a choice of several productions in a week. The National Theatre may have once had a fiercely inaccessible reputation, but the arrival of maverick artistic director Nicholas Hytner in 2003 rocked theatreland as he set about changing the venue's staid ethos with daring productions such as 'Jerry Springer the Opera' and an ambitious adaptation of Phillip Pullman's 'His Dark Materials'. The change of tack proved a success, attracting audiences of mixed race, age and class – and Hytner's budget £10 Travelex-sponsored tickets still help pull in the crowds in the summer season. The home stable for Michael Morpurgo's 'War Horse', which opened here in 2007 and went on to break West End records, the National is now developing a reputation for family-friendly blockbusters, cue its current production of Mark Haddon's 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time'. Meanwhile the National Theatre Live initiative has extended the theatre's reach by broadcasting high-publicity productions such as Danny Boyle's role-swapping smash-hit 'Frankenstein' and the comedy 'One Man, Two Guvnors', which introduced James Corden to the stage, live to Picturehouse Cinemas. A recent run of the post-modern musical 'London Road' proved it hasn't lost its edge. You

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Young Vic
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Young Vic

The Young Vic finally returned to its refurbished home in The Cut in 2007 with acclaimed community show ‘Tobias & the Angel’. As you would expect, it’s got more verve and youthful nerve than the grown-up Old Vic down the road and attracts a slightly younger more multicultural – yet still discerning – crowd. Director David Lan’s eclectic programming of rediscovered European classics has proved popular with the critics, while a stage adaptation of DBC Pierre’s ‘Vernon God Little’ was standing ovation material. Three venue spaces – the main house and studio spaces Maria and Clare – allow for flexible scheduling and more intimate works such as Tarell Alvin McCraney’s moving ‘The Brothers Size’. The Young Vic also provides its Waterloo home with a popular split-level bar and restaurant complete with an open-air balcony terrace.

Royal Court Theatre
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Royal Court Theatre

A hard-hitting theatre in well-heeled Sloane Square, the Royal Court has always placed emphasis on new British talent – from John Osborne’s ‘Look Back in Anger’ in 1956, to the discovery of numerous playwrights over the past decade: Sarah Kane, Joe Penhall and Conor McPherson among them. Artistic director Dominic Cooke has always injected plenty of politics into the programmes and successfully decreased the age of his audiences too. This is where you’ll find rude, lyrical new work set on the London streets by first-time playwrights like Bola Agbaje and the more established but no less cool Mark Ravenhill. Split between two floors – with the mid-capacity Jerwood Theatre Downstairs and the studio-style Jerwood Theatre Upstairs – the Royal Court also houses an excellent bookshop geared towards theatregoers and a café bar with a weighty menu serving up more than your average bag of peanuts.

Shakespeare's Globe

Shakespeare's Globe

The original Globe Theatre, where many of William Shakespeare's plays were first staged and which he co-owned, burned to the ground in 1613 during a performance of 'Henry VIII'. Nearly 400 years later, it was rebuilt not far from its original site, using construction methods and materials as close to the originals as possible. Shakespeare’s Globe has been an unbridled success, underpinned in part by its educational programme (you can drop in for talks and readings) and its commitment to faithfully recreating an original ‘Shakespeare in performance’ experience from April to October. The open-air, free-standing Yard is the best bet for those after complete authenticity – the absence of seating may test your stamina but tickets are excellent value – while the Middle and Upper Galleries afford a (marginally more comfortable) atmosphere of their own. The only thing that tends to mar a performance is the theatre’s somewhat noisy, flight-path location. In the UnderGlobe beneath the theatre is a fine exhibition on the history of the reconstruction, Bankside and its original theatres, and Shakespeare's London. Guided tours of the Shakespeare's Globe theatre run throughout the year. If the Bard is not your bag, look out for various seasonal festivals that take place on the riverside area outside the Globe Theatre. For more information about visiting the Globe Theatre, head to www.timeout.com/outdoor-theatre-faqs

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Lyric Hammersmith
Theatre

Lyric Hammersmith

A beacon of culture in Hammersmith, the Lyric's distinctive look is largely down to a fusion of the building's 1970s structure, the theatre's Victorian heritage and a modern interior.