From prehistoric creatures to hedonist Gods, pop star piglets to expletive-ridden US hits, London theatre has it all this summer. Whether you’re looking for child-friendly entertainment that will bring a smile to your face as well – and you can trust us, we’ve seen most West End family shows and can still hum the theme tunes to prove it – or a drama dark enough to melt away the ice cream hues that dominate the season, we’ve got it sorted. Here are our top tips on what to see and why.
Change your perspective…
Every season brings something new for London theatre; winter’s cosy festive treats, for example, or autumn’s bombardment of premieres. Summer just about sneaks in as our favourite at Official London Theatre. Why? Because, while many may head off to Edinburgh in search of innovation, those in the know can take advantage of just how perspective changing summer theatre can be, from watching under the stars to catching one of the season’s more magical offerings.
The obvious place to start is theatre al fresco, and there are only two places you need to be this summer to experience the best outdoor theatre in the world, each very different from the other.
Arguably most iconic is Shakespeare’s Globe. Go traditional and stand with your rotten fruit ready to throw – er, scratch that bit, that fashion went out with ruffled collars and yellow stockings – or watch over the groundlings from the benched seating in this imposing wooden home to the best of Shakespeare. Either way, you’ll fall under this South Bank venue’s spell, and the best news is you can do it in the company of some of the London stage’s most celebrated performers this season, from Michelle Terry in As You Like It to Charles Edwards in Richard II.
Across the other side of London, nestled in the leafy royal park, is the supremely romantic Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre – think fairy lights and Prosecco picnics under a canopy of trees – where you can catch Peter Pan flying through the audience or Janie Dee lead The Seagull later this month.
Fancy heading indoors, but still want something a bit different? Alice continues to fall through the rabbit hole in the tunnels under Waterloo Station in the interactive Adventures In Wonderland; enjoy but just make sure not to lose your head over it… In the mood for more magic? Look no further than Impossible, which, with its line-up of world famous magicians and illusionists, won’t just change your perspective but bend, baffle and bewilder it.
Escape with the family…
The list of family-friendly shows at this time of year is endless, so here is our whistle-stop tour through some of our highlights. We’ll kick off with pop star porkers in The 3 Little Pigs because if Olivier Award winner Leanne Jones wasn’t enough to entice you in, try the fact it’s by Stiles & Drewe of Mary Poppins and Honk! fame AND Simon Webbe and Gareth Gates also take on starring roles for that noughties crooner bonus.
In the mood for something more out of this world? Look no further than those knickers-loving extra-terrestrials with the return of Aliens Love Underpants or go back to a simpler time – if by simpler you mean living purely by your fight or flight instincts – with the sensational puppets in Dinosaur Zoo. For little theatregoers there is also storybook magic on offer in I Believe In Unicorns or the page to stage hit The Gruffalo, while older children will love seeing Jacqueline Wilson’s Hetty Feather come alive on stage in all its circus glory or catching the grossest bits in the newest Horrible Histories instalment.
Don’t forget, these shows and many more will be taking part in our kids go free ticket promotion Kids Week, which once again returns for the whole month of August.
Rage against the light…
If this is all sounding a bit too jolly japes for your liking and you’re already sick of your friends Instagramming photos of their jam jar cocktails in rooftop bars, never fear, step out of the – sometimes fleeting – summer light and into the dark, where theatre has a whole host of disturbing dystopian visions ready and waiting to counteract the overdose of seasonal pastels.
The Almeida Theatre leads the way with a double dose of innovative takes on Greek drama – always the grisliest – with Oresteia, starring Lia Williams, now playing and Ben Whishaw and Bertie Carvel set to bring a new version of Bakkhaito its Islington stage in July.
Former Almeida hit 1984also returns to the West End this summer and, believe us, you can’t get much darker than this. But, while that rat scene might stay with you for days, you’ll be equally affected by the ingenious, multi-media staging. If that puts you in the mood for more chilling tales, the Young Vic is staging Caryl Churchill’s clone-drama A Number, with father and son John and Lex Shrapnel leading the cast.
…or brighten up…
So, you’ve had your taste of doom and perhaps have now come out the other side ready to have the grin plastered back on your sun-creamed face. How about David Suchet in a corset? Yep, we thought that would do the trick; The Importance Of Being Earnest will be a guaranteed night of fun and frivolity.
While Suchet may be up there with the Dench’s of this world in the theatrical ranks, one man who is yet to conquer the stage is The Office star Stephen Merchant, but not for long. He’ll be joined by Steffan Rhodri when he makes his theatrical debut in The Mentalists, penned by king of West End comedy Richard Bean (him of One Man, Two Guvnors fame).
There’s also US hit comedy on the menu at the National Theatre when the show with the starriest titled show since Mark Ravenhill was last in town, The Motherf**ker With The Hat, has its UK premiere. Described as a “whip-smart look at love and addiction”, this New York-set piece received a more than respectable six Tony Award nominations, which we’d say is reason enough to purchase a ticket.
Singalong to summer…
And we’re not talking about Glastonbury here. Forget the muddy fields of festivals and kick your summer of song off at West End LIVE on 20 and 21 June, where you can see many of London’s top shows performing absolutely free.
Back on Shaftesbury Avenue and beyond, a bumper crop of newbie musicals will be joining the legendary West End ranks this season. Bend It Like Beckham The Musical has already kicked off proceedings as Jamie Campbell Bower makes his musical debut in the film to stage adaptation of the heart-warming tale. At the St James Theatre, Cynthia Erivo and – we’d-watch-her-in-anything-because-we’re-obsessed – Jenna Russell star in a brand new 20th anniversary production of the epic Songs For A New World, while August sees new shoes for a new world instead as Broadway hit Kinky Boots gets set to stomp, strut and sashay its way into the West End.
For those looking for a dose of old-fashioned class, look no further than brand new theatrical concert Sinatra: The Man And His Music, which will be doing exactly what it says on the tin at the imposing London Palladium, or the revival of the utterly swellegant Kate Fleetwood-led High Society, continuing to charm at The Old Vic. More into rock than (victory) rolls? American Idiot will be up your street as the Green Day musical makes its London return for a full summer residency at the Arts Theatre.
This is just a taster of the dozens of summer treats heading your way over the next few months. Check out everything you can buy tickets for through us this summer here.