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Music and Theatre
A word of warning - there are always literally hundreds of ticket touts (people who sell tickets illegally) hanging around concert venues. Be very careful! This is against the law and the ticket may not even be a real one.
Rock and Pop Music
The Africa Centre, 38 King Street, WC2
Tel: 020 7836 1973
Tube: Covent Garden
A smaller venue equally worth a visit. Some of the top African bands play here at night. During the day there is a shop and a bookshop full of interesting items.
Astoria (LA1), 157 Charing Cross Road, WC2
Tel: 020 7434 0403 Box office: 10am-6pm
Tube: Tottenham Court Rd
This is a popular venue for a range of tribute, rock, punk, reggae and club artists. Unlike many venues there are good views from most positions.
Brixton Academy, 211 Stockwell Road, SW9
Tel: 020 7924 9999/020 7771 2000 Box office: 10am-6pm
A large venue with an incredibly good atmosphere considering the size. It holds 4000 and regularly does. It is close to the tube station so you still feel 'safe'. Don't wander too far away from the venue. The Academy attracts many big name stars.
Earl's Court Exhibition Centre, Warwick Road, SW5
Tel: 020 7373 8141 Box office: 9am-6pm
Tube: Earl's Court
This venue has an 18000 capacity and is not known for good views and acoustics. Many well known artists have played here because of its large capacity but it is not recommended for the overall live performance.
Forum, 9-17 Highgate Road, NW5
Tel: 0207 344 4000/info 020 7284 1001 Box office: 10am-6pm
Tube: Kentish Town
This is one of the most popular venues in London. You get a good view wherever you stand and the sound is good. It also attracts big name stars.
Carling Apollo Hammersmith, Queen Caroline Street, W6
Tel: 020 7416 6080 Box office: 10am-6pm
Formerly a cinema, this is a venue where you will probably not do much dancing as the seats are all still there (but some people do dance in the aisles).
Royal Albert Hall, Kensington Gore, W1
Tel: 020 7589 8212 / info 020 7589 3203 Box office: 9am-9pm
Tube: Gloucester Rd, Knightsbridge, High St Kensington or South Kensington
Famous for classical concerts and all manner of cultural events, The Royal Albert Hall hosts modern music concerts too. It is an atmospheric building and gives you the opportunity to get quite close to the stars.
Shepherd's Bush Empire, Shepherds Bush Green, W12
Tel: 020 7771 2000 Box office: 10am-6pm Mon to Fri; 10am-2pm Sat
Tube: Shepherd's Bush or Hammersmith & City Lines
Originally the BBC TV Theatre the empire is now one of London's premier venues. Many well-known British and American groups appear nightly.
Wembley Arena, Empire Way, Wembley
Tel: 020 8900 1234 Box office: 9am-9pm
Tube: Wembley Arena
The arena hosts many big name bands and is a lot smaller than the Stadium. It doesn't have much atmosphere though.
Classical and Orchestral Music
The Royal Festival Hall, Belvedere Road, SE1 8XX
Tel: 020 7960 4242
Over 150,000 hours of music have been performed at the Royal Festival Hall since its completion in 1951. It is the largest venue in the South Bank Centre and is at the heart of London's music scene. The Hall welcomes over three million visitors a year. The Queen Elizabeth Hall and the Purcell Room are used for dance, song and recitals. The colossal Poetry Library houses the Arts Council modern collection. For a more relaxed musical treat sample the free lunchtime concerts in the Foyer, which is open to the public from 10:00 - 22:00. The Royal Festival Hall is primarily a classical music venue. It benefits from the residency of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, London Philharmonia and four associate ensembles. The programme also includes events from opera to the London Jazz Festival. The annual Meltdown festival in June is a cultural feast, and draws a wide, young crowd. Each year Meltdown has a guest curator, most recently David Bowie.
The Royal Opera House, Bow Street, Covent Garden, WC2
Tel: 020 7304 4000
Tube: Covent Garden
The Royal Opera House first opened in 1732. It has suffered fire, bankruptcy and neglect in its time, but since 1995 has undergone lavish restoration, and is flourishing as the official home of the Royal Ballet. The Royal Opera House is housed at Covent Garden in impressive buildings, mostly built after the fire of 1808. It is the main stage for the Royal Opera and Ballet. The Royal Ballet performs productions by internationally renowned choreographers, like Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov's Swan Lake, and Natalia Makarova's new production of Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty.
Sadler's Wells, Roseberry Avenue, EC1
Tel: 020 7863 8000
In 1685 Sadler's Wells was briefly London's most fashionable spot for taking a water cure, whilst being entertained by theatrical and musical performers. Since then it has battled constantly against closure, kept alive by crowds of drinkers and a series of well-connected patrons fond of its atmosphere. A glittering new building opened in 1998. Sadler's Wells lies in the heart of Islington. An impressive foyer leads into a 1568 seat theatre with excellent acoustics. Sadler's Wells presents an adventurous programme of dance, drama and opera. Most famous for offering a platform to award-winning dance companies like White Oak Dance and Dance Theatre of Harlem, Sadler's Wells also produces big-budget dance spectaculars like Mathew Bourne's Nutcracker. The Peacock Theatre stages popular dance productions, part of Sadler's Wells vision for winning new audiences.
Barbican, Barbican Centre, Silk Street, EC2
Tel: 020 7628 2326
When the Queen opened the Barbican in March 1982, she labelled it a wonder of the modern world. In twenty years over 28 million people have visited. Top performers are attracted by its world class reputation and high profile, but the centre also devotes time to supporting under-funded art iniatives. The Barbican Centre covers seven acres just south of the Thames, comprising a concert hall, two galleries, two theatres, three cinemas, seven conference suites, two trades halls and three restaurants. Last year saw the launch of the BITE theatre season. 69 companies from 23 countries performed at the Barbican's theatres. Their cinemas mount several critically acclaimed and popular seasons each year, including the London Australian Film Festival. There is a vibrant weekly concert schedule courtesy of long-term residents the London Symphony Orchestra and prolific newcomers the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Musicians from all nations and genres flock to perform in the refurbished Hall. Their educational programmes help 40,000 under-privileged youngsters attend courses funded and organised by the Barbican.
Royal Albert Hall, Kensington Gore, SW7 2AP
Tel: 020 7589 8212
Tube: South Kensington
The Royal Albert Hall was conceived as part of Prince Albert's desire to promote the arts. Sadly, it was not completed until 1871, several years after his death. It has acheived global fame as home to the Proms, a season of classical music climaxing in flag-waving crowds belting out the National Anthem. This populist ethos is reflected in the Hall's mix of traditional, contemporary and experimental concerts. There is truly something for everyone. The Hall is located in West London's cultural heartland. It faces Kensington Park and is surrounded by the Victoria and Albert, Science and Natural History Museums. The Royal Colleges of Art and Music and the Royal Geographic Society also stand nearby. One of London's most versatile venues, it is a favourite of performers from Jose Carreras to Kylie Minogue.
English National Opera (ENO), St Martin's Lane, WC2N 4ES
Tel: 020 7632 8300 Box office: 09.30-20.30 Monday to Saturday
Tube: Charing Cross or Leicester Square
The ENO caters for everyone. The productions are basically theatre-come-opera. They are sometimes controversial, and always adventurous. There is no dress code: dress up, dress down - the choice is yours. All performances at ENO are sung in English. ENO tickets start at just £6, and more than half of the tickets every night are less than £40. ENO's home - the London Coliseum - is in St Martin's Lane, at the heart of the West End. The Coliseum has bars on every level, offering drinks, sandwiches and confectionery. Children between 5 and 18 are welcome at ENO and tickets are priced at half the adult cost. Some shows may not suitable for young children. If you're unsure, check with the box office.
The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, WC2
Tel: 020 7304 4000 Box office: 10.00-20.00 Monday to Saturday
Tube: Covent Garden
This is London's equivalent of the Bastille, or the Vienna Staatsoper, but much more expensive! Tickets range from £5 to £160. Government cuts have meant that prices have risen to levels most people can't afford. In the summer there are free concerts outside the Royal Opera House as part of the Covent Garden Festival. If you are lucky you will see and hear Pavarotti transmitted to a huge screen on the Piazza of Covent Garden. NB You are expected to dress smartly. You will see many full-length evening gowns/suits, but as long as you don't wear jeans and trainers you'll be okay. Telephone bookings require a credit card.
Holland Park Open-Air Opera, Holland Park, W14
Tel: 020 7602 7856 / 0845 230 9789
Tube: Holland Park
Set in the beautiful grounds of Holland Park this outdoor theatre runs a summer season of opera until 10 August, staged by Opera Holland Park with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. It seats 827 and has refreshment facilities including a bar and picnic area. Call for details. Tickets should be booked in advance as performances are very popular. Prices range from £20-£40. Telephone bookings by credit card only. Remember to look in 'Time Out' for other seasonal operatic events!
Summer Open Air Concerts
Hampton Court Palace
Train: Waterloo to Hampton Court
Situated in the old worlde-ness of Hampton Court Palace, where you can enjoy the relaxed music festival held during the summer.
Holland Park Theatre
Tube: High Street Kensington
A variety of music, dance and theatre events take place every summer here in the grounds of one of London's most picturesque and civilised parks. A canopy covers both Stage and audience.
Kenwood Lakeside Concerts
Tube: Archway, Golders Green
This annual series of outdoor classical concerts has been held on Hampstead Heath for over 50 years. Take a picnic and enjoy the music and picturesque views of the Heath and historic Kenwood House. At the big shows in late summer there's the added treat of spectacular fireworks displays and laser shows.
Marble Hill Concerts
Train: St Margaret's, Richmond or Twickenham
The Marble Hill concerts, held every Sunday during the summer, are similar to Kenwood: undemanding music - normally including a selection of popular classics.
London is famous for the theatre and we certainly hope that you will go to a play or a musical while you are here. Look in the Theatre section of 'Time Out' and you will see that there are usually about 150 different shows to choose from.
Because there is such a big choice it can be confusing. This page is intended to guide you among the different possibilities. It does not mention individual plays because these change, but gives information about the way in which the theatre scene in London is organised.
You can think of theatre in London as divided into three main sections:
There are a number of government-supported theatres which offer very high quality. The best known are the Royal National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company. The National Theatre has its home on the South Bank, the RSC at the Barbican Arts Centre. Seats are usually a little bit cheaper than in West End theatres.
The subsidised theatres usually operate a repertory system, which means that they have a number of plays running at the same time - perhaps 4 or 5. This means that you have to be careful when buying tickets to make sure that the performance that you want to see is on on the day when you want to go.
Both the main subsidised theatres are in modern buildings. Neither is particularly beautiful, but they are certainly worth visiting. The National Theatre, in particular, has an excellent location on the river and offers a lot of free entertainment. It's a good place to go even if you are not going to attend a performance.
Most of the productions in the subsidised theatres are of plays, but you will sometimes find musicals too. As you would expect, the Royal Shakespeare Company regularly performs Shakespeare's plays, but it also offers plays by other authors.
The West End
The West End is our name for the central part of London - the area of shops and entertainment. There are many theatres in the West End, particularly in Shaftsbury Avenue and The Strand. The West End is where you will find most of the musicals for which London is famous. Seat prices are usually a little higher than in the subsidised theatre.
West End theatres do not operate a repertory system but have a single show running continuously.
Most West End theatres are quite old, and many have a lot of charm. But seats in the upper part of the house (called 'the gods') can be a long way from the stage and although they are cheaper they are less comfortable and it can be more difficult to see and hear.
These are smaller theatres which can still offer excellent quality but in a much more relaxed environment. Many are very informal. There is not much difference between off-West End and Fringe - indeed the idea of off-West End is a fairly recent one, borrowed from New York ('Broadway' and 'off-Broadway'). We have used these terms since they are used in 'Time Out' which is the best source of information about what is on. Fringe is like off-West End but even more informal.
Two excellent theatres in this category are very near the school: The Bush Theatre in Shepherds Bush and The Gate Theatre at Notting Hill Gate. Both are very small and located above a pub. But do not think that this means they are not real theatres. Both of them have a very good reputation and very many Bush Theatre productions have transferred to bigger theatres in the West End.
One advantage of off-West End and fringe theatres is that because they are so small you can see and hear perfectly. They are also much cheaper than the West End. You may find that you are not so comfortable, though - seating can be quite casual.
Many off-West End and Fringe theatres are clubs and you may need to be a member, but in most cases this is not complicated. At the Bush Theatre, for example, you pay an extra 50p for your membership but can do this when you buy your ticket.
It is always worth trying to get tickets from the theatre itself. This is the cheapest way. You can either go to the theatre or telephone (some theatres charge a little more for telephone bookings). The department of the theatre where you buy tickets is called the Box Office. Off-West End and fringe theatres often have very informal systems - you just put your name on a list and collect your ticket shortly before the performance.
Some shows are sold out and you will not be successful at the theatre. If you very much want to see a particular show you may have to use a theatre ticket agency. If this is the case, please ask us for advice: you will always pay extra for tickets at an agency, but some agencies charge an unreasonable amount extra and it is best to use only a reliable and honest one.
If you are desperate you will always find people outside theatres selling tickets for the most popular shows ('ticket touts'). Be careful if you buy tickets from these people - the tickets will usually be very expensive, and they may even be forgeries.
There is a half-price ticket office at the south end of Leicester Square which sells tickets for some shows. You pay half the usual price, plus a small service charge. The tickets are usually top-price tickets so the seats are good but you will pay just as much as the normal price of a cheaper seat. Website: Official London Theatre.
As you would expect, tickets for the more popular shows are not available here.
Buy tickets as far in advance as you can. This way you get more choice for less money. Enjoy your theatre-going in London!