Planning the perfect evening at the theatre need not make you stressed. Remember the emphasis on a theatre trip is on relaxation and enjoyment. Fortunately, adding the sparkle to a long leisurely evening at the theatre can be easily accomplished with an early start: an aperitif, a pre-theatre dinner (not three courses just two) at a nearby restaurant followed by a gentle saunter to your seats via the bar to order interval drinks. Then afterwards return to the restaurant for desert and a digestive to sip whilst you discuss the evening show!
The luxury option of a chauffeur driven car (or at least a proper black London cab) is so important to start the evening off well. Of course if you are lucky enough to be staying in Theatreland already then the short stroll to your restaurant can be very pleasant, but if you are “travelling in” consider that you will be doing so during rush hour: the tubes will be chockka and there is nowhere to park!
So give the driver plenty of time and relax: you don’t want to be watching his every move and willing him on through the traffic when you should be considering whether you fancy a gin and tonic or a dry Martini.
Alternatively head straight for your restaurant: the excellent fish restaurant J Sheekey between St Martin’s Lane and Charing Cross Road is handy for the theatres on those two streets, including the London Coliseum, whilst The Criterion is perfect for the theatres that surround Piccadilly Circus – including none other than Her Majesty’s Theatre which hosts The Phantom of the Opera. For the Soho theatres why not chose Quo Vardis?
Make sure you do chose a restaurant close to the theatre: luxury is all about being the part of the swan above the water: let others do the frantic paddling across town!
You only need to get to the theatre in time to pick up your programme and order interval drinks but even so you may like to arrive about 15 minutes before curtain up. Armed with your programme you can take your seats early without having to clamber over the rest of the audience.
It is imperative to order drink on arrival. There is a lot of jostling at the bar in the interval and if you don’t get your drink quickly, not only will you have to gulp the thing down but you may have to suffer the indignity of a plastic glass and having to take it back to your seat! Sipping from a Champagne flute whilst the bottle sits on ice will make you the envy of all those around you wishing they’d had the same foresight! Even if a coffee is what you’d rather, you don’t want to have to fight for it!
Note: there is a move to enable us to book such things as interval drinks online, before the show. It is by no means common place at the moment but that will change! At the Victoria Palace (home to Billy Elliot) there is a whole room you can hire: it’s a bit big for two, but perfect for a small group.
Regarding the show itself, most theatres in the West End now offer Premium seats which are considered to have the best views of the stage. These will either be in the centre of the Stalls area of the auditorium, about 5 – 6 rows back from the front or in the first few rows of the Dress or Royal Circle. Some theatres offer a free programme with the premium seats. However, glossy souvenir programmes are always available to purchase on arrival at the theatre, which gives the reader, added information and pictures of the show.
Note: Beware seats in boxes in London theatres. These were designed to be seen in rather than to be seen from. It looks wonderful, to have your own little room, with none of the hoi polloi sitting close to you, but in reality all you get is a side view at best. At worst the view is restricted and you have to lean forward to see anything that happens upstage! Of course the ticket price often reflects this so you also run the risk of everyone in the theatre looking up at you and knowing that you bought cheap seats? I think not!
After the show you have your restaurant to return to… they may even have kept your table and that bottle of wine you didn’t finish. Otherwise what about a club? Ronnie Scott’s second show of the evening will start about now – book a table and retire there but remember to tell your chauffeur where you have gone – you don’t want him waiting for you back at the theatre!
Simon Harding is Editor at Theatre Breaks.