London’s West End covers a rather mixed bag of streets between Soho and Covent Garden, or rather maybe more accurately described as “no further than 2000 yards north, east or west of the Pall Mall Barbershop.” As well as being home to a huge variety of shops, clubs and restaurants it is home to around 40 theatres: hence it being dubbed Theatreland!
So if you should find yourself between shaves with a little time to kill, the notion of going to the theatre is not an unpleasant one by far, especially if sweetened by the promise of a cocktail at the American Bar in the Savoy Hotel beforehand! The basics you need to know are as follows.
Time Is Of The Essence
1. Unlike a cinema, a West End theatre tends to have just one production on at a time with most performances happening in the evenings. Afternoon performances usually take place on one day during the week and on Saturdays. Only a very few shows have a Sunday performance.
Dress Comfortable, Tie Optional
2. Theatres do not have a dress code so be as casual as you like – however, unless you are at the Royal Opera House, a black tie will see you running the risk of being mistaken for the front of house manager and of course shorts are ONLY for rugger!
3. Most shows start at 7:30 pm and you may not be allowed in immediately if you are late. They last for at least 2 hours so a pre-theatre dinner is a suitable solution to the evening’s eating arrangements: preferably at a nearby restaurant and sitting down to eat at least an hour and a half before the show starts. No one wants to be dashing about on a full stomach! If you are going to the theatre during the week, look on the Web for theatre and dinner packages. These serve the purpose of saving money and recommending a nearby restaurant. Don’t push the boat out too much for a pre-theatre dinner as you may run the risk of not wanting to leave your restaurant before the port comes out. A steak at the Criterion or a pie at Porters will do admirably.
Paying The Price & The Droop
4. Tickets tend to range from £20 to £70 depending on what show you see and which seating you choose in the theatre. When buying, always check the “face value” of the ticket and make sure you understand where the seats are. Bounders will buy cheap seats and sell them at inflated prices leaving you with less drinking money and a feeling of vertigo! Make sure you buy tickets direct from the theatre or a recognised agent or holiday company: they should be members of ABTA or STAR. NOTE: Users of moustache wax should avoid the upper areas of the auditorium as it can get very hot up there, which can cause your moustache to droop (see also number 9).
Purchase Tickets A Day Or More In Advance
5. Unless it is a very late decision I would avoid buying tickets on the night of. Whilst most shows will most likely still have availability, it adds an unnecessary element of risk and needlessly complicates the evening. (Note: Especially take heed be this a first date! See number6)
6. If you are taking a young lady it is wise to get to the theatre early and offer to fetch interval drinks and programmes whilst she makes herself comfortable. Firstly this will enable you to “get a quick one in” whilst ordering and secondly, it will make sure that you are not left waiting round like a chump whilst she queues endlessly at the ladies facilities.
Where & When To Seat Yourself
7. If you are sitting at the end of the row don’t go to the auditorium too early, otherwise you and your lady will be up and down like a pair of yo-yo’s. Alternately, if you have seats in the middle of a row it is advised you arrive early!
Give Us A Smoke
8. If you would like to take a smoke at the interval, you must do so in front of the theatre, in the street. It isn’t very relaxing but nothing about smoking is these days! A member of the front of house staff will call when the interval is about to finish so don’t stray too far.
9. For users of moustache wax still worried about droopage in a warm auditorium, you may also like to consider the length of a show. Spamalot, Thriller, Let It Be and The Bodyguard are the shortest musicals: all under 2 hours and 20 minutes including interval (a perfect chance to reapply if need be, oh the vanity!). Short plays include The Woman in Black, The 39 Steps (one of the few West End shows to actually feature a rather splendid moustache) and The Mousetrap. Stomp is only 1 hour 40 minutes but doesn’t have an interval! Note: Let It Be and The Bodyguard also have the benefit of being just moments from Harry Craddock’s old haunt: the American bar at the Savoy!