Among London’s lesser-known theaters is the Barbican, which hosts an array of art, theater, dance, film and musical productions throughout the year. // © 2014 London & Partners
Planning a trip to London this summer? That’s when the chilly city warms up to welcome travelers from around the world — and London’s theater scene generates a substantial amount of the heat.
“London had another record-breaking year in 2013, with record box office attendances compared to 2012,” said Julian Bird, chief executive of the Society of London Theatre. “National and international audiences flock to the West End and can choose from new stagings of classic plays, operas and ballets to new musicals and immersive stagings of reinterpreted works.”
Bird said more than 14.6 million people attended a London theater performance last year.
“London theater is booming,” said Julie Chappell, director of consumer marketing and digital channels for London & Partners, the city’s promotion agency. “There is literally something for everyone.”
This year is shaping up to be just as promising. Many favorites that return year after year will run on London’s large stages and lesser-known works will debut at local favorites, such as the Young Vic.
“First-time visitors and families tend to be drawn toward the long-running, popular plays and musicals and the internationally known productions, whereas seasoned travelers tend to like to go off the beaten path a little bit — to the National Theatre in South Bank, The Barbican in the city, The Young Vic in Lambeth and places like the Almeida in Islingtion, some of the more fringe/alternative type theaters,” said Chappell.
London’s stages are also drawing a lot of star power this season, including appearances by Kathleen Turner, Kristin Davis and Angela Lansbery. Benedict Cumberbatch will also grace the stage at the Barbican, playing Hamlet in 2015. Celebrity appearances are generating a lot of buzz in London’s theater world and their appearances on smaller stages make the experience accessible to more travelers.
But celebrity cast members are only one element of London’s theatrical offerings. A range of stirring dramas, provocative plays and rousing comedies stand ready to entertain visitors throughout the city. Since information on large-scale productions such as Les Miserables is easily found, we’ve rounded up a collection of smaller-scale plays to suit a variety of interests.
Bakersfield Mist: May 10 – Aug. 30
Starring Kathleen Turner and Ian McDiarmid and written by Stephen Sachs, Bakersfield Mist examines our concept of authenticity. Based on a true story, out-of-work bartender Maude (Turner) buys a painting from a thrift store on a whim, but is later convinced that it is a Jackson Pollock that’s worth millions. She calls upon the expertise of the world-renowned and supercilious New York art critic Lionel Percey (McDiarmid). When he arrives at her trailer park in Bakersfield, Calif., their sparring fuels a fascinating juxtaposition of two characters. Playing at the Duchess Theatre and directed by Polly Teale.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime: June 24 - Feb. 2015
Adapted from Mark Haddon’s best-selling novel by playwright Simon Stephens and directed by Marianne Elliot, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime follows the efforts of autistic teenager Christopher Boone as he investigates the grisly murder of his neighbor’s dog, only to uncover truths about his own life that send him on a far bigger and more frightening journey. Playing at the Gielgud Theatre.
My Perfect Mind: Sept. 3 – Sept. 27
Acclaimed classical actor Edward Petheridge was two days into rehearsing a long-awaited role as King Lear when he suffered two strokes that left him paralyzed — yet he found that his mind had retained the entire role of King Lear intact. Directed by Kathryn Hunter and starring Edward Petheridge (as himself) and Paul Hunter, My Perfect Mind is a surreal and darkly comic play about the mind and its resiliency. Created by Told By An Idiot and playing at the Young Vic.
Jeeves and Wooster in Perfect Nonsense: Now through Oct. 2014
For an out-and-out romp, head to the Duke of York’s Theatre to see Robert Webb and Michael Heap star in the theatrical adaptation of the beloved British television series, “Jeeves and Wooster.” When the foolish aristocrat Bertie Wooster and his reliable valet Jeeves head to a country house for the weekend, their visit takes a turn for the ridiculous. Directed by Sean Foley.
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels: Now through Nov. 2014
The hit 1980s film was originally adapted to musical form on Broadway in 2005, with music and lyrics by David Yesbek. Directed by Jerry Mitchell (Hairspray and Legally Blonde), this West End production stars three-time Olivier- and Tony Award-winner Robert Lindsay, Rufus Hound and Olivier Award-nominee Katherine Kingsley in a fresh take on the tale of two con artists who attempt to swindle a millionaire heiress.
Mr. Burns: June 5 – July 19
Mr. Burns made its debut in New York in 2013 to critical acclaim. Written by Anne Washburn, the play depicts a post-apocalyptic America that struggles to survive without electricity. An episode of the Simpsons acts as the centerpiece in the story; as the episode is passed down through the generations it is increasingly distorted and eventually becomes a myth. Playing at the Almeida Theatre.
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare: June 26
For an offbeat alternative to Shakespeare’s Globe, head to the Orchard Theatre to see the Reduced Shakespeare Company perform The Complete Works of William Shakespeare in just 97 minutes. Written by Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield, this uproarious crash course in Shakespeare ran for 9 years in the West End and has recently been updated for its 2014 return in June.
Summer is also the ideal time to enjoy a traditional outdoor theater performance in London, thanks to fairer weather.
“I absolutely love going to an outdoor theater in the summer,” said Chappel. “There’s something so magical about being outdoors. Shakespeare’s Globe is a wonderful experience — you can sit in the gallery seating or stand in the middle and be a ‘groundling.’ When it’s a beautiful warm summer’s evening, being at the Globe is amazing. Regent’s Park Open-Air Theater is really atmospheric and beautiful as well. With the fairy lights around the theater, seeing something like Midsummer Night’s Dream at Regent’s Park is amazing.”
Show schedules and outdoor venues are available online.