THEATERS OF LONDON
The stage for a dramatic tradition over 800 years old, London theaters maintain unrivaled breadth of choice. At a West End theater (a term referring to all the major stages, whether or not they’re actually in the West End), you can expect a professional (if mainstream) production and top-quality performers. Off-West End theaters tend to present more challenging works, while remaining as professional as their West End brethren. The Fringe refers to scores of smaller venues, often just rooms in basements with a few benches and a team of dedicated amateurs, tkts, on the south side of Leicester Sq. is run jointly by London theaters and is the only place where you can be sure your discount tickets are genuine. You can only buy on the day of the performance, in person and in cash, and with no choice in seating. There’s no way of knowing in advance which shows will have tickets, but you can expect a wide range. There’s a £2.50 booking fee per ticket but no limit on the number you can buy. (Open M-Sa 10am-7pm, Su noon-3pm. Most tickets £15-25.)
WEST END AND REPERTORY COMPANIES
Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, 21 New Globe Walk (7401 9919). Tube: Southwark or London Bridge. A faithful reproduction of the original 16th-century playhouse. Opt for backless wooden benches or stand as a “groundling.” For tours, see 173. Performances mid-May to late Sept. Su 6:30pm, Tu-Sa 7:30pm; June Su 1 and 6:30pm, Tu-Sa 2 and 7:30pm. Box office open M-Sa 10am-6pm, and at 8pm on performance days. Seats £12-27, concessions £10-24; standing £5.
Barbican Theatre, main entrance on Silk St. ( 7638 8891). A huge, futuristic auditorium with steeply raked, forward-leaning balconies. Hosts touring companies and short-run shows, as well as frequent contemporary dance performances. The Pit is largely experimental, while Barbican Hall houses the London Symphony Orchestra (187). Tickets £6-30. Student and senior standbys from 9am day of performance.
National Theatre, just down river of Waterloo bridge (info 7452 3400; box office 7452 3000; www.nationaltheatre.org.uk). Tube: Waterloo or Embankment. At the forefront of British theater since opening under the direction of Laurence Olivier in 1976. Popular musicals and hit plays, which often transfer to the West End, subsidize experimental works. The Olivier stage seats 1080, the Lyttelton is a proscenium theater, and the Cottesloe offers flexible staging for experimental dramas. Box office open M-Sa 10am-8pm. Tickets £10-30; from 10am day of performance £10; standby (2hr. before curtain) £15; standing places, only if all seats sold, £6. Concessions available.
Open-Air Theatre, Inner Circle, Regents Park (7486 2431; www.open-air-the-atre.org.uk). Tube: Baker St. Bring blankets and waterproofs-performances take place rain or shine. Program runs early June to early Sept. and includes 2 Shakespeare works, a musical, and a children’s production. Barbeque before evening shows. Performances M-Sa 8pm (matinees mostTh and every Sa 2:30pm). Children’s performances M-W, F, and occasionally Th 2:30pm; Sa 11am. £8.50-25, children half-price with adult ticket, student and senior standbys from lhr. before curtain £8.
Royal Court Theatre, Sloane Sq. ( 7565 5000). Called “the most important theater in Europe,” dedicated to new writing and innovative interpretations of classics. Main stage £7.50-26, concessions £9, standing room lhr. before curtain lOp. Upstairs £12.50-15, concessions £9. M all seats £7.50.
Sadler’s Wells, Rosebery Ave. (7863 8000). Tube: Angel. London’s premier dance space, with everything from classical ballet to contemporary tap, plus occasional operas. £10-45; student, senior, and child standbys lhr. before curtain £10-18.50 (cash only). Box office open M-Sa 9am-8:30pm.
MAJOR FRINGE THEATERS
The Almeida, Almeida St. (-et 7359 4404). Tube: Angel or Highbury & Islington. Top fringe in London, if not the world. Hollywood stars, including Kevin Spacey and Nicole Kidman, queue up to prove their acting cred here. Will open in spring 2003 following renovations. Show times and prices to be announced.
Donmar Warehouse, 41 Earlham St. ( 7369 1732). Tube: Covent Garden. Serious contemporary theater. £14-35; concessions standby £12, 30min. before curtain.
Young Vic, 66 The Cut (7928 6363). Tube: Waterloo. With only 8 rows of seats surrounding the flat stage, Vic can be unnervingly intimate. Box office open M-Sa 10am-8pm. £19, seniors £12.50, students and children £4-9.50.
The heart of the celluloid monster is Leicester Square (178), where the latest releases premiere a day before hitting the city’s chains. The dominant mainstream cinema chain is Odeon (a (0870) 5050 007). Tickets to West End cinemas begin at £8; weekday matinees before 5pm are usually cheaper. For less mainstream offerings, try the Electric Cinema, 191 Portobello Rd. (Tube: Ladbroke Grove), for the combination of Baroque stage splendor and the buzzing effects of a big screen. For an extra special experience, choose a luxury armchair or 2-seat sofa. ( 7908 9696; tickets 7229 8688. Late-night reruns Sa 11pm; classics, recent raves, and double bills Su 2pm. M £7.50, Tu-Su £12.50; 2-seat sofa M £20, Tu-Su £30; Su double bills £7.50.) Riverside Studios, Crisp Rd. (Tube: Hammersmith) shows a wide and extraordinary range of excellent foreign and classic films. ( 82-37 1111; £5.50, concessions £4.50.) The National Film Theatre (NFT), on the South Bank, underneath Waterloo Bridge (Tube: Waterloo, Embankment, or Temple), promises a mind-boggling array of films six different movies hit the three screens every evening, starting around 6pm (a 7928 3232; £7.20, concessions £5.50). The Prince Charles, Leicester PI. (Tube: Leicester Sq.), will let you Sing-a-long-a-Sound-of-Music, with Von Trappists dressed as everything from nuns to “Ray, a drop of golden sun.” ( 7957 4009 or 7420 0000. Su 2pm, F 7:30pm; £12.50, children £8.)
Capital of a nation famed for its sense of humor, London takes comedy seriously. On any given night, you’ll find at least ten comedy clubs in operation: Check listings in Time Out or a newspaper to get up to speed. Summertime gig-gle-seekers should note that London empties of comedians in August, when most head to Edinburgh to take part in the annual festival; that means July provides plenty of comedians trying out their material. A young Robin Williams performed frequent impromptu acts at the ElComedy Store, la Oxendon St. (Tube: Piccadilly Circus), the UK’s top comedy club and sower of the seeds that gave rise to Ab Fab, Whose Line is it Anyway?, and Blackadder. Tuesday is contemporary satire, Wednesday and Sunday improv, Thursday through Saturday stand-up. (TicketMaster (0870) 060 2340. Shows Su and Tu-Sa 8pm, F-Sa also midnight. Book ahead. 18+. £12-15, concessions £8.) East London’s Comedy Cafe, 66 Rivington St. is a sure bet for a good laugh, (a 7739 5706. Reserve F-Sa. Doors 7pm, show 9pm. W free try-out night. Th £5, F £10, Sa£14.)