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Things To Do in May
Photograph: Louise Mason / Shutterstock

London events in May

London will be gearing up for summer in May 2024, so make the most of it at a music festival, rooftop bar or must-see exhibition.

Written by
Rosie Hewitson
,
Alex Sims
&
Liv Kelly
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May truly is one of London’s finest months if you ask us. Not only is the city pleasantly warm and bursting with colourful spring blooms, but everyone is giddy with the possibilities of the coming summer.

And most excitingly of all, there are not one, but two bank holidays on which to embark on inaugural rooftop bar excursion of the summer, rock out at one of the year’s first music festivals, lounge about in your favourite park, check out all those must-see exhibitions you’ve been meaning to catch or escape the city on a mini-break.

And if that isn’t enough to keep you entertained, here’s our guide to the best events, parties, pop-ups and things to do in May 2024 in London. You’re in for one sweet, sweet month.

Best things to do in London in May 2024

  • Theatre
  • Shakespeare
  • Covent Garden

Super-director Jamie Lloyd is renowned for his powers of celebrity wrangling, but even by his standards this is quite the coup: his production of Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo & Juliet’ will star Tom Holland, aka Spider-Man himself, in his first stage role since a lengthy stint in ‘Billy Elliot’ as a child actor. Holland will, of course, be playing Romeo: there’s no word on any other casting, including Juliet, but further celebrities seem unlikely – Lloyd tends to assemble diverse, interesting casts that highlight up-and-coming talent. Stylistically, we can certainly expect a contemporary setting and stripped-back aesthetic, though last year’s peerless ‘Sunset Boulevard’ did see Lloyd get back to his more maximalist roots with its gargantuan video wall and copious use of gore – you’d think a bit of the ol’ claret has to be an option for Lloyd’s take on Shakespeare’s high-ish body-count romantic tragedy.

  • Art
  • South Kensington

In partnership with Gucci, the V&A will be showcasing a stunning follow-up from the Tate Modern’s 2016 exhibition, ‘The Radical Eye’. Meandering through the decades from 1950 up until the present day, visitors will be presented with an unmatched collection of more than 300 rare prints by over 140 photographers, including Cindy Sherman, known for her striking self-portraits, and Robert Mapplethorpe, famed for his black and white still-life and nude studies. Each item is on loan from Sir Elton John and David Furnish’s private collection, marking their 30 years of collecting.

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Zoo Lates

As the sun goes down this summer, join London Zoo after hours for an unmissable adult-only evening. From 6pm every Friday evening in June and July, you're invited to come and see the Zoo in a different light without the kids or the crowds. Explore a world of wildlife in the heart of the city with tours, talks and The Origin of the Faeces exhibition. Then when you’ve worked up an appetite, discover our Wild Bites street food market, serving up fantastic flavours from across the globe, with plenty of choice for herbivores and carnivores.

  • Theatre
  • Drama
  • Covent Garden

Stage-loving Studio Ghibli fans are being treated like never before at the moment: hot on the heels of the RSC’s hugely acclaimed ‘My Neighbour Totoro’, here comes this spectacular Japanese production of Hayao Miyazaki 2001 masterpiece ‘Spirited Away’. Adapted for the stage by John Caird – co-director of ‘Les Miserables’ – with puppets by Toby Olié, there’s so much Brit talent at the heart of the production that a transfer always seemed pretty much bolted on, and it’ll play a limited run at the vast London Coliseum as part of a wider international tour. ‘Spirited Away’ is perhaps the quintessential work by Ghibli head honcho Miyazaki, concerning Chihiro, a young girl who inadvertently crosses over into a world filled with strange spirits of varying friendliness. Presented in Japanese with English surtitles, it also features a live orchestra playing Joe Hisaishi’s score.

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  • Museums
  • Film and TV
  • Lambeth

The human impact of conflict is a dimension of war that is often overlooked, but not in this springtime exhibition at the Imperial War Museum, which looks to shed light on people and their experiences of war through the work of celebrated humanitarian and photojournalist Tim Hetherington. Marking the 13th anniversary of his passing, it will explore Hetherington’s unconventional approach of creating ‘visual novels’, becoming ‘part of the platoon’ and his commitment to ‘closing the distance’ between his subjects and his audience, and includes work from his 2011 project on the Libyan Civil War, during which he was mortally wounded.

Direct from Graceland: Elvis

Get ‘All Shook Up’ with a visit to Direct from Graceland: Elvis, a kaleidoscopic retrospective of the global sensation, Elvis Presley. Put on your ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ and see over 450 largely unreleased artefacts that chart the King’s humble beginnings to his meteoric rise to fame in this exclusive release from Graceland. Extended due to popular demand, don’t miss Elvis Direct from Graceland at London’s newest destination for culture, Arches London Bridge.

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  • Theatre
  • Comedy
  • Shaftesbury Avenue

‘Fawlty Towers’ (the play) is absolutely not an attempt to boldly reinvent the adventures of Basil, Sybil, Manuel and co for the twenty-first century. Instead, the performance has stitched together content from three classic episodes: ‘The Hotel Inspector’, ‘The Germans’ and ‘Communication Problems’. It sounds like they’ll be woven into a single narrative with a new ending, but whether you’re a long-term fan or too young to have ever seen it, you’ll pretty much be getting ‘Fawlty Towers’ in its classic form.

  • Theatre
  • Experimental
  • Sloane Square

The first main house play in David Byrne’s reign at the Royal Court is one that was made earlier: great Brit auteur director Katie Mitchell remounts her 2019 German adaptation of Maggie Nelson’s ‘Bluets’, an essay on grief, sadness and the colour blue, with a new English language adaptation by rising star playwright Margaret Perry. It’s a great piece of leftfield programming from Byrne: the Court has gone without a really successful Downstairs theatre show for what feels like years – Mitchell’s rep alone is enough to sell ‘Bluets’, but it’s also enough to get a very exciting cast headed by Paddington Bear himself Ben Whishaw, who’ll star alongside Emma D’Arcy and Kayla Meikle.

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  • Things to do
  • South Bank

Outdoor spaces are big business come London summertime, and this seasonal pop-up between Waterloo and Westminster bridges is one of the biggest in London. Boasting lovely views over the river Thames and an eclectic programme of drag shows, DJs, live performances and themed club nights, its summer 2024 season is packed with surprises. For this month’s schedule, you can expect non-stop noughties from the 10-piece brass powerhouse that is the Old Dirty Brasstards, plus TEDFEST, celebrating everything that is Father Ted. 

Between Riverside and Crazy

Since his wife died, ex-cop Walter ‘Pops’ Washington has filled his palatial rent-controlled apartment in one of Manhattan’s most desirable areas with an oddball extended family of petty criminals. So now he’s besieged by the landlords, who want him out, the NYPD, who want him to settle his lawsuit against them, and the ladies from the local church, who want to save his soul. But Pops, calm at the eye of the storm, is going to do precisely what Pops wants to do…

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  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Theatre
  • Musicals
  • Recommended

While it is fairly nuts that leftfield European director Ivo van Hove has been allowed to plonk a leftfield European musical (which features absolutely no dance numbers, power ballads, lavish sets, or cute romantic storylines) in a big theatre in the middle of London, this play has a palpable warmth. ‘Opening Night’ is a stage adaptation of a classic arthouse film, which, under all the avant-garde bells and whistles, unquestionably has a heart, and features a wonderful performance by Sheridan Smith.

  • Things to do
  • Exhibitions
  • Lewisham

After celebrating its 75th anniversary last year, this multimedia exhibition at the Migration Museum in Lewisham delves into the history of the NHS, and to the thousands of dedicated non-British workers who have contributed to its delivery of healthcare. Through photography, artefacts, and a newly commissioned interactive music video installation, their stories are lovingly told. 

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  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Theatre
  • Drama
  • Whitehall
  • Recommended

 

One of the best things about Denise Gough’s astounding performance in Duncan Macmillan’s addiction drama is how understated it is. For all the initial, broad black comedy, it’s a masterclass in nuance and subtlety. This is a play about the seduction of escaping reality, and it features a performance that burrows into the heart, the guts, the brain, the soul.

  • Theatre
  • Drama
  • Charing Cross Road

James Graham’s adaptation of Alan Bleasdale’s seminal ’80s drama follows five unemployed men trying to negotiate their way through Thatcher’s decade. It’s directed by Kate Wasserberg (artistic director of Theatr Clwyd in Wales) and will return to Liverpool for a run before a short transfer to the Olivier theatre for 21 performances, then heading straight back on to the West End’s Garrick Theatre.

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  • Theatre
  • Musicals
  • Waterloo

This autobiographical work by musician Stew looks back at the LA-born singer-songwriter and playwright’s formative years as a young Black man navigating finding himself and his musical taste. We’re finally being graced with the UK debut, 20 years after it was first performed in the US, part of Kwame Kwei-Armah’s impressive final season.

World Press Photo Exhibition 2024

After a seven-year hiatus, the World Press Photo Exhibition returns to London, taking place at Borough Yards throughout May. Presenting the results of the 2024 World Press Photo Contest, the annual exhibition showcases the best and most important photojournalism and documentary photography of the last year. The winners were chosen by an independent jury made of 31 professionals from around the world who reviewed more than 61,062 photographs were entered by 3,581 photographers from 130 countries.

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  • Art
  • Art

As London’s galleries gear up for their big summer exhibitions, they’re closing the doors on their spring shows. Small gallery exhibitions like Nick Waplington’s amazing ‘Living Room’ jostled for space with major institutions’ exhibitions like the Hayward’s huge sculpture show ‘When Forms Come Alive’ and big in-depth historical extravaganzas like Raven Row’s Brazilian art rundown ‘Some May Work As Symbols’. There was photography, painting, sculpture, immersive installations, the whole shebang, so try and catch ‘em while you still can. 

4theFans London: Euros 2024

From the brand that brought you the biggest and best sold-out Euro 22 and World Cup 23 FanParks, 4theFans is back...Experience the electrifying matches of Euro 24 in the UK's BEST fan parks. For the south-east Londoners, choose Studio 338, an epic warehouse providing indoor and outdoor spaces, incredible acoustics and an unrivalled atmosphere. Or opt to watch at Dalston RoofPark and enjoy the beauty of the game on big anti-glare screens across the venue, 

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