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Around the world in 5 theatres

Hira Desai

By Hira Desai First Published 25 March 2021, Last Updated 7 April 2021

Theatre is amazing for so many reasons. It provides an escape from the every humdrum, it gives us an opportunity to learn about different people, culture and history and it also helps us to connect with people in so many different ways. For those reasons (and plenty more!), theatres are famed around the world.

From the Sydney and Cambodia to Vietnam and New York, I’ll be sharing memories from shows I have seen around the world and those that I am looking forward to seeing in the West End this year. Grab a cuppa and settle in for a trip around the world in theatres.


New York, U.S.A 

When I moved to New York in 2011, one of the things I felt most excited about was experiencing the bright lights and glitz and glam of the world-famous Broadway.

Consisting of 41 professional theatres, each with 500 seats or more, and located in the Theatre District and the Lincoln Centre along Broadway in Midtown Manhattan, you can only imagine the array of productions that are on offer for theatre fans; it’s utter heaven!

My first show on Broadway was Wicked at the iconic Gershwin Theatre. Named after brothers George Gershwin, a composer, and Ira Gershwin, a lyricist, it has the largest seating capacity of any Broadway theatre with 1,933 seats and hosts large musical productions.

The venue, which has been home to the Tony and Olivier Award-winning blockbuster musical Wicked since October 2003, previously served as a concert hall for a number of legendary jazz and pop music performers. It was also home to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s hugely popular musical Starlight Express in 1987.

I remember being shown to my seat at the performance and feeling those familiar goosebumps as the curtain was raised. The smash-hit musical tells the incredible untold story of the Witches of Oz and transports you to a place far, far away. From the stunning set design and costumes to the magical soundtrack and incredible storyline, Wicked is a pure spectacle and an absolute treat for my first show on Broadway! Lucky for us, Wicked is also playing in the West End, click here to grab your tickets.

If I wasn’t already hooked to theatre, I definitely was after that experience. From Jersey Boys and Wicked to Stomp and Chicago, I feel extremely grateful to have enjoyed some great theatre both on and off Broadway and can’t wait to see more when I next travel there.


Siem Reap, Cambodia 

One of the things I love the most about travel is the opportunity to learn about different cultures and history, so before I set off on my trip to Siem Reap, I did some research to find out how I could embrace the Cambodian culture. It was clear, very quickly, that Phare, the Cambodian Circus was a must-see for first-time visitors.

While on first impressions it presents itself as a circus, Phare is so much more than that. It combines music, theatre, dance and modern circus to share a variety of historical, folk and modern Cambodian stories. Featuring original music, breathtaking theatre and some jaw-dropping circus acts, I was truly blown away by the experience.

Opening in 2013, Phare is a fairly new concept and puts on a professional show under a 330-person big top all year round. From the minute you enter the big top, you’ll be swept away by the energy, emotion and talent presented on stage.

And at the end of the performances, there is ample time to meet the amazing artists, to ask questions and to take group photos. I learnt that they were students and graduates from Phare Ponleu Selpak‘s (PPSA) vocational training centre. Founded in 1994, PPSA offers students and graduates a place to build their skills and an opportunity to earn a reliable income, meaning they will not face poverty. Not only does Phare boost the arts sector in Cambodia, it also allows individuals to grow professionally with freedom and confidence.

Seen by over one hundred thousand people and with almost 75% of the profits going back into training students in PPSA, Phare, the Cambodian Circus is not only a unique theatre experience but also gives back to the society, and that makes the whole experience extra special.


Sydney, Australia 

When it comes to performing arts venues, the Sydney Opera House is definitely up there as one of the world’s most famous. Opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 1973, the multi-performance venue is visited by more than 10.9 million people every year. Not only is it one of the most iconic theatres in the world, it’s also a UNESCO World Heritage site.

On my trip to Sydney in 2017, I booked tickets to see All You Need Is Love, a show presenting a number of Beatles masterpieces and although it wasn’t theatre as such, experiencing the iconic Concert Hall was a theatre lovers dream come true!

Over the years, the Opera House has staged a number of leading international productions including Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights and West End hit pop musical SIX and has many in the works for 2021 including the Olivier Award-winning Home, I’m Darling and American Psycho: The Musical.


Hanoi, Vietnam

When you think of Vietnam, what instantly comes to mind is delicious food, secluded beaches, bustling cities and of course, loads of history! And where there’s history, there is also art.

On my trip to Hanoi a few years ago, I learnt about a traditional water puppet show which dates back to the 11th century. The traditional art form was created in a time when villagers invented their own entertainment by standing waist-deep in the flooded rice paddy fields and used large rods to support puppets so that they appeared to be moving over the water.

Though the puppet show can be seen on stages all over the world, its a unique experience to see the performance in the original location at Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre in Hanoi. Performed in a pool of water, the puppets are controlled by around eight puppeteers hidden behind a screen.

The short sketches tell Vietnamese folk tales and legends as well as giving audiences an insight into day to day ancient village life, agriculture harvest and dances of magical mythical creatures. The performances are accompanied by traditional music with drums, horns, cymbals, operatics and bamboo flutes played by a Vietnamese orchestra.

There are plenty of moments of hilarity in this traditional show and along with the impressive puppetry, is a great way to learn more about Vietnamese culture and its history.


London, U.K

The West End company in Come From Away at the Phoenix Theatre 2020. Credit Craig Sugden
Having worked in London for several years, visits to the theatre with friends after work and weekend matinee dates with my partner were always regular events but it was only when I moved to Hong Kong that I realised how lucky I was to have theatre so readily available in London.

Upon moving back home, I immediately booked tickets to see 9 to 5 The Musical, Waitress, Only Fools and Horses and many more, within the first few months alone! I had a lot of catching up to do.

The last show that I saw was Come From Away which took me on a real emotional rollercoaster. There was happiness, there were tears and a whole lot of stomping my feet! It tells the incredible real life story of 7,000 air passengers that were grounded in Canada after 9/11. To see how the people of Gander rallied together to welcome the ‘Come From Aways’ is truly heartwarming.

The four time Olivier Award-winning show plays at the Phoenix Theatre which is one of my favourites because of its deep history. Built in 1930, the Phoenix Theatre is highly devoted to the works of English playwright, Noel Coward and opened with the premiere of his comedy Private Lives. In 1969, his 70th birthday was celebrated and the foyer bar was renamed The Noel Coward Bar.

Just as I felt I had a lot of catching up to do when I returned home from Hong Kong, I feel a similar sentiment with theatres being closed for the most part of the last year. It’s been too long since I was sat in those red velvet seats but luckily the wait won’t be much longer as we have a number of shows reopening in the coming months.

From brand new shows to the reopening of West End classics, here’s a list of the shows I’m most looking forward to seeing in London this year:

Jersey Boys 

Having seen this classic once in New York and twice in the West End, I’ve got to admit it’s one of my all time faves. The Tony and Olivier Award-winning show explores the true story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons and is packed with their famous hits. From Beggin’ and Sherry to Bye Bye Baby and Can’t Take My Eyes Off You (which I love so much, I chose it for my first dance at my wedding!), there are so many showstoppers that’ll have you up on your feet and singing your heart out. And after the year we’ve all had, that’s just the medicine we need.


Six is the British musical that everyone’s losing their heads over and I can’t wait to see it! I love a bit of female empowerment in musical theatre, so when I heard about a modern musical that sees the wives of Henry VIII sharing their stories in the form of pop songs, I was pretty much convinced. The playlist has also gotten me through many dull days, so ladies and gents, if you need a little girl power in your life, or even a history lesson in the form of a musical, add this one to your list!

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie 

When I first read about Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, I knew I’d love it. Not only is the story incredibly inspiring, sassy and full of pure fabulousness, the soundtrack is one that you just can’t get out of your head (in a good way!) I left the theatre feeling happy, energised and ready to take on the world, so if you’re looking for a feel-good pick-me-up, this magical show is well worth a watch.


Have you sensed a little theme yet? 🙂 After the challenging times we have all faced in the past year, feel-good musicals is just what I need!

Hairspray is a classic movie-turned-musical that speaks to my soul! The story of a teenage girl who wants to make it on the local TV dance show, win the heart of teen heartthrob Link Larkin and bring everyone together? It ticks all the boxes.

Just listening to Lizzie Bea sing Good Morning Baltimore gives me goosebumps and with Michael Ball, Paul Merton and Marisha Wallace starring in the show, I don’t need any more convincing.

If like me, you’re missing theatre and can’t wait to be back in those red velvet seats, check out our roundup of shows to see in 2021 and get your tickets booked so you can have something to look forward to as soon as those doors open.


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