There are few things more joyous for a youngster than the ringing of a school-bell on the last Friday before half-term.
But while schoolchildren are sure to celebrate the occasion, that doesn’t necessarily ensure that the good old British weather will. Especially in October, it can be tricky to find outdoor activities which don’t involve standing drenched in a park, clad in a soggy anorak and attempting to piece together wet sandwiches from an abandoned picnic.
That’s where theatre comes in. With a whole host of shows laying on extra performances – the list below is by no means exhaustive, so do check with box offices if another show takes your fancy – there’s never a better time to introduce your youngster to the wonders of the West End.
We’ve picked out a few potential highlights of the holiday, so you don’t have to.
Regular schedule: Mon-Sat 7.30pm, Thu & Sat 2.30pm; Prince Edward Theatre
In 30 seconds? An adventure like no other, as the palaces, bazaars and swashbuckling stories of Agrabah take to the West End stage. Disney’s Aladdin and his rag-to-riches tale will transport youngsters to a whole new world of dazzling, awe-inspiring musical fun.
Kids’ll like: The colourful spectacle, the magical special effects, and the undoubted star of the show, the hilarious Genie.
Grown-ups will love: A chance to relive the beloved animated film of the 1990s as you’ve never seen it before, with new songs, scenes and surprises to enjoy as well.
Any extra performances in the week? Your wish is granted: an extra matinee on Tuesday at 2.30pm.
Regular schedule: Mon-Sat 7.30pm, Wed & Sat 2.30pm; Theatre Royal, Drury Lane
In 30 seconds? The wonderful world of chocolatier and sweet-maker Willy Wonka springs to life at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, with Charlie Bucket given the rare chance to venture inside his mysterious factory. Sugary delight, Oompa-Loompas and an army of squirrels lie in store for plucky youngsters in a world of pure imagination.
Kids’ll like: Chocolate, sweets, and the adventure of a lifetime; their Christmas lists will be sorted.
Grown-ups will love: The ingenious stagecraft and automation which powers the jaw-dropping titular Chocolate Factory.
Any extra performances in the week? An extra matinee on Tuesday at 2.30pm – sweet!
Regular schedule: Sat & Sun 10am & 12pm; Lyric Theatre
In 30 seconds? A magical musical adaptation of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s award-winning picture book, The Gruffalo invites audiences to join Mouse on a daring adventure through the deep, dark wood. There’s cunning foxes, slithering snakes, crafty owls and rumours of a beast… a beast with knobbly knees, and turned-out toes, and a poisonous wart at the end of his nose!
Kids’ll like: The flamboyant animals, including a certain orange-eyed monster – if it exists, of course!
Grown-ups will love: The burst of excitement in seeing a classic picture book brought to hilarious life with colourful energy and imaginative fun.
Any extra performances in the week? A whole week of them! You can catch the show from Tuesday-Friday at 11am, or Thursday-Friday at 2pm, as well as in the usual weekend slots.
Regular schedule: Tue-Sat 7.30pm, Wed, Sat & Sun 2.30pm; Lyceum Theatre
In 30 seconds? The immortal tale of Simba, Mufasa, The Circle Of Life, Elton John and Tim Rice’s revered music and lyrics, and Julie Taymor’s ground-breaking design and direction. The beloved stage adaptation of Disney’s seminal movie has been adored by London audiences of all ages for seventeen years now, with costumes, sets, songs and scenes in the Pride Lands you have to see to honestly believe.
Kids’ll like: Hakuna Matata, Timon & Pumba, and more stunning puppets than you can shake Rafiki’s staff at.
Grown-ups will love: The jaw-dropping design work and beautiful melodies.
Any extra performances in the week? Everything the light touches will also be on show Thursday at 2.30pm.
Regular schedule: Tue 7pm, Wed-Sat 7.30pm, Wed & Sat 2.30pm; Cambridge Theatre
In 30 seconds? Roald Dahl’s extraordinary tale of a child with an incredible talent for learning – and a terrifying teacher, Ms Trunchbull, determined to crush it – won a record-breaking seven Olivier Awards when its musical adaptation opened in London, teaching children and grown-ups alike that to learn a lesson, sometimes you have to be a little bit naughty.
Kids’ll like: The chance to see fellow schoolchildren get revenge on their terrible teacher.
Grown-ups will love: Tim Minchin’s toe-tapping humdinger of a score, with spelling-themed lyrics, catchy melodies and mischievous, playful spirit abound.
Any extra performances in the week? An extra M-A-T-I-N-E-E on Thursday at 2.30pm.
Regular schedule (from 21 Oct): Tue-Fri 7.30pm, Sat 2.30pm & 7.30pm, Sun 3pm & 7pm; Apollo Theatre
In 30 seconds? What do you get when you cross J M Barrie’s classic adventure tale Peter Pan with Mischief Theatre’s unique brand of meta-theatrical mayhem? Haywire staging, technical hitches, and laugh-til-your-sides-hurt family fun, that’s what.
Kids’ll like: The sheer slapstick, costume malfunctions, and one cool crocodile.
Grown-ups will love: The jokes that will fly over the kids’ heads.
Any extra performances in the week? Disastrously, an extra 2.30pm matinee on Wednesday.
Regular schedule: Tue-Sat 7.30pm, Sat 2.30pm, Sun 3pm & 7pm; Duchess Theatre
In 30 seconds? A murder most foul, in a production most unfortunate. The Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society – aliases Mischief Theatre – stage a 1920s murder mystery, where the butler’s alibi isn’t the only thing that’s uncertain; everything that can possibly go wrong, does (hilariously).
Kids’ll like: Collapsing sets, dodgy ‘amateur theatre’ acting, and plenty of whacks to cast members’ faces.
Grown-ups will love: Just how explosively wrong things can possibly go.
Any extra performances in the week? An additional matinee is on Wednesday at 2.30pm, we’re right in saying (we think).
Regular schedule: Wed 2.30pm & 7.30pm, Thu 2.30pm, Sat 1pm & 4.30pm, Sun 2pm; King’s Cross Theatre
In 30 seconds? An Olivier Award-winning stage adaptation of the hugely popular E Nesbit book, The Railway Children is fun for all the family, set on railway tracks at the King’s Cross Theatre and following the adventures of three children who embark on a journey of friendship and discovery in the countryside. Oh, and did we mention there’s a moving steam train?
Kids’ll like: The exploration of the family dynamic during wartime Brit- ah, who are we kidding? The massive, jaw-dropping moving steam train!
Grown-ups will love: THE MOVING STEAM TRAIN!
Any extra performances in the week? Plenty! There’re two extra performances on Monday at 1pm and 4.30pm, as well as an extra matinee on Friday at 2.30pm.
Regular schedule: Mon & Fri 8pm, Thu & Sat 3pm & 8pm, Sun 3pm & 6pm; Ambassadors Theatre
In 30 seconds? Music is made from the mundane as the sensational Stomp crew thump matchboxes, wooden poles, rubbish bins, kitchen sinks and more. Rhythms, all-encompassing beats and spectacular dancing have left audiences young and old in awe worldwide.
Kids’ll like: The energy of the percussion – it’s so infectious, you may want to hide your dustbin lid at home…
Grown-ups will love: An inventive, multi-award winning showcase of jaw-dropping musical talent.
Any extra performances in the week? Two extra shows on Wednesday at 3pm and 8pm – smashing!
Regular schedule: Mon-Sat 7.30pm, Wed & Sat 2.30pm; Apollo Victoria Theatre
In 30 seconds? The spellbinding untold story of the Witches of Oz, who have delighted West End audiences for ten ever-green years. Two girls first meet as sorcery students, but their destinies differ – one will become Glinda the Good, and the other the Wicked Witch of the West, in this touching tale of friendship which speaks to all ages.
Kids’ll like: A fun story of two friends in the magical world of The Emerald City – and the talking goat!
Grown-ups will love: Stephen Schwartz’s touching melodies and director Joe Mantello’s awesome spectacle.
Any extra performances in the week? Hop on your broomsticks and head down to the Apollo Victoria Theatre on Thursday at 2.30pm.