The West End is home to the theatre scene in England. Chicago, Wicked, and Much Ado About Nothing are just a few of the big name shows on London’s West End where everything from musical extravaganzas to Shakespeare to avant-garde productions can be seen.
London’s West End draws the most talented thespians from around the world as well as many well-known film and television stars.
The biggest show in the United Kingdom right now is Much Ado About Nothing starring Doctor Who’s David Tennant and Catherine Tate. This show was selling out months before it even opened as people from around the world flocked to see their favourite Doctor and companion play feuding lovers in this Shakespearean comedy.
“I think it was really well thought out,” Maddy Rad, a King’s College London graduate student said. “Usually it takes a long time to get into the flow of Shakespeare, maybe half an hour or an hour, but with this, ten minutes in, everything clicks and everyone starts laughing. The performances are so strong that it’s difficult not to get involved.”
Another show that continues to sell out night after night since premiering in London over five years ago is the musical spectacular Wicked. Eight shows a week, Rachel Tucker brings down the house with the soaring, show-stopping number ‘Defying Gravity.’ Her powerful voice and incredible talent as an actor moves the audience to tears as they watch her play the leading role of Elphaba, a unique but misunderstood character. Elphaba speaks to people of all shapes, sizes, colours, and creeds that their individuality is what makes them beautiful.
“I loved Wicked because it has an amazing cast,” says Sarah White, a student from Chichester University and avid theatre lover. “Both Rachel Tucker and Louise Dearman suit their roles perfectly. They both capture your attention the moment they step onto the stage and from then on, you are caught up in the moment. The story itself is brilliant as it shows that there are two sides to every story.”
“Wicked is one of my all-time favourites. Tucker and Dearman are the two best leading ladies ever to grace the stage,” London theatre student Michael Rideout said. “They both work so well together and have stunning voices. Love Never Dies is also an incredible piece of live theatre with amazing music, sets, costumes and a fabulous cast.”
“I saw Wicked for the second time and loved it even more than I did the first go around. I knew exactly what to expect but I still cried and laughed just as hard,” said recent Southeastern Louisiana University theatre studies graduate Kaci Davis.
One show still relatively new to the West End is War Horse, a touching, dramatic play about the friendship between a young man and his horse as they fight in World War I. What makes this show so spectacular is the use of life-sized horse puppets in the production. The puppeteers masterfully manipulate the puppet animals with such fluid movements making them seem like they are alive.
“At first I didn’t think that War Horse was going to be something I would enjoy, but I was wrong,” said Tara Bennett, an organizational communication graduate student. “It was a beautiful story, and wonderfully executed by the cast and crew. After the show was over, I had tears in my eyes.”
“I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed Warhorse. I didn’t expect to like it at all, but at the end of the show I might have had a tear in my eye…and not from boredom,” Davis added.
Audiences desiring a more dramatic, artsy production, rather than a big West End musical, should visit the Donmar Warehouse. The Donmar Warehouse is not the typical theatre experience. IT is a very small, intimate theatre making every seat in the house, great. The audience really feels a part of the show and gets easily drawn into the performances due to the size of the theatre. The Donmar Warehouse usually plays more avant-garde, contemporary shows.
Right now, Luise Miller, the Friedrich Schiller rethinking of the classic Shakespearean play Romeo and Juliet, is nearing the completion of its six month run. This minimalist production of a tragic love story stars rising British actors Felicity Jones, Max Bennett and ER and Doctor Who actress Alex Kingston. For audiences in search of superb acting performances, this is the show to see.
Another avant-garde theatre venue is the Old Vic Theatre. Though they perform classic Shakespearean plays, they produce them in unique and artistic ways. One of the directors that repeatedly partners with the Old Vic Theatre is Revolutionary Road director Sam Mendes. Last year, Mendes directed an incredibly eery interpretation of The Tempest, and this year he has returned to produce Richard III.
One simply cannot visit the English theatre scene without seeing a show at Shakespeare’s Globe theatre. The Globe offers a large repertoire of traditional Shakespeare performances that rotate on a daily basis. It is an incredible experience to be able to stand in the yard at the Globe and watch a classical performance of the bard’s work.
This season, Arthur Darvill, yet another Doctor Who star, took on the dark role of Mephistophilis in Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, showing at the Globe. Darvill is yet a fourth Doctor Who actor to grace London stages, giving an incredibly moving performance. This year, the London theatre scene seems to have been invaded by Doctor Who stars. It is interesting to see these actors take on such different roles than those they play on television. The audiences really get to appreciate the immense talent of these actors in their respective plays.
“I thought it was a very creative way of integrating an old play with modern symbolism,” Kaitlyn Seiler, a Southeastern Louisiana University creative writing major said.
However, recognizable names do not always guarantee talent. One case-and-point would be Christie Brinkley in Chicago. One would think that when casting a West End show, great talent would be required, not so with Brinkley. Brinkley could not sing to save her life. Her musical timing was atrocious, her ability to dance was non-existent and her acting was horrendous. Every time Brinkley would go to sing, one could actually hear quiet groans from the audience and see people shaking their heads in disapproval. Though Brinkley, being a world-renown supermodel, certainly looked the part of Roxie Hart, she was a triple-flop instead of a triple-threat. Though big names certainly seem to lend credibility to a show, it would be wise for audiences to read reviews before shelling out upwards of £30 on tickets to a show.
“I’ve seen Chicago on the West End and Broadway and after experiencing both, I can see the difference between them. Broadway is huge and amazing, but the West End production is still more stuck in the class divide. But I have to say I love the West End. It is a part of London and its history, and I can’t see London without it,” said University of Chichester student Abigail Grisman, “Out of all the West End shows I’ve seen, We Will Rock You had to be the best experience. It had a great atmosphere and they are always good at getting the audience involved. I think that’s partly due to the fact that everyone knows the song, and Queen is just amazing.”
Another classic West End production is Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Phantom of the Opera, which this year is celebrating its 25th anniversary.
“It is an incredibly good performance. It had you on the edge of your seat a lot of the time just with the anticipation of what was going to happen next. The cast was so powerful and good to watch,” White said.
With such a tremendous variety of West End shows, both old and new, tragic and comedic, musical and avant-garde, there are endless choices to pick from. With a little research ahead of time, people can find shows that will wow, mesmerize and leave them begging for more. Everyone who visits London must at least do one West End show because there is nothing quite so wonderful as live theatre.