With more than 40 theatres in an area of around two square miles, London Theatreland is one of the best served areas for entertainment in the world.
All the big shows have been performed on stages in London Theatreland. There’s been everything from long-running whodunnit, The Mousetrap, to dramas such as Fatal Attraction. It’s also aired some of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s finest like The Phantom of the Opera and even those that haven’t done so well, like sequel Love Never Dies.
There is a long heritage of theatre in London, dating back at least as far as the Reformation, and William Shakespeare’s own theatre company put on many productions in the city in the 16th century.
London Theatreland – history and culture
So as we set out on a London Theatreland tour with City Wonders guide Phil I knew there would be plenty of stories and odd historical facts in store.
Like did you know the Criterion Theatre, which is underground, was requisitioned by the BBC to use as a studio during World War Two? Or that the performing arts school RADA was founded at the Her Majesty’s Theatre, in Haymarket?
The tour took in the Queens, Geilgud, the Lyric, Cambridge, and St Martins Theatre – home to the world’s longest running show – The Mousetrap, now in its 62nd year.
But the tour wasn’t just about the theatres, Phil passed on other historical and cultural facts about some of London’s most famous locations such as Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square and Chinatown. In Covent Garden he told us the fascinating story of Seven Dials – an area where seven streets converge on a pillar with sundials at its centre. Oddly enough there are only six sundials on the Seven Dials pillar, but the pillar itself is said to signify the seventh.
From the 17th century right through to the 20th century the area was a byword for urban degradation and poverty, and few would venture into the Seven Dials for fear of becoming a victim of crime. But the area was redeveloped and has long since been gentrified by London’s fashionable set.
Wandering back towards Shaftesbury Avenue we headed for a light dinner at The Grace restaurant, before what was in fact the main event of the day. The London Theatreland tour was informative and fun, but what better way to end the day than with a show. And we caught one of the best in town – Les Miserables at the Queens Theatre.
Les Miserables, the show about the fortunes of characters during the French Revolution, is the longest running musical in London Theatreland. It was a fantastic climax to my day, leaving me happy that I’d not only enjoyed one of the attractions for which London is rightly famous, but I’d also learned more about the city’s history.
City Wonders is not currently running the Les Miserables tour, but runs a similar London Theatreland tour with a showing of Phantom of the Opera and a backstage tour of the theatre.