Teen Theatre in London

american-idiot 200x200

Hi Theatre-goers

saraI’m spending a week up in Harrogate, but even the pull of the beautiful walks over the Yorkshire Dales can’t keep me away from writing my weekly blog to you all. Aren’t you lucky people?

the-39-stepsLast week I took my two teenage sons to see The 39 Steps at the Criterion theatre… It’s only taken me 9 years, the announcement of it closing in September and the fabulous discounts during Kids Week (which actually runs the whole of August) that finally forced me to book tickets. The boys really enjoyed it – a lot of slapstick which, of course, they adored (reminiscent of One Man, Two Guv’nors style of comedy).

It got me thinking about other shows that cater for the sometimes moody male teen who thinks that theatre is boring – my two have certainly had their fill of what they deem as “fluffy” musicals so we tend to go to plays now-a-days – but I’m thinking that they would like American Idiot at the Arts theatre which has just been extended to November.

american-idiotUsing the music of indie rock band Green Day to tell the story of three teenagers, post 9/11, who choose 3 different paths in life all which are influenced by the witnessing of the terrorist attacks on their country. American Idiot is an in your face theatre experience dealing with sex, drugs and rock n’ roll.

Two tried and tested plays that we have seen in the last few years are War Horse at the New London theatre and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time now at the Giegud theatre.

war-horseWe had already read War Horse, an amazing story by Michael Murpurgo, as a family, so we very keen to see the stage adaptation. We weren’t disappointed – it had transferred effortlessly from page to stage with truly remarkable physical effects to bring the horses to life. Highly recommended.

Another highlight was seeing The Curious Incident shortly after it transfecurious-incidentrred to the West End from a sell-out run at the National theatre. This time it was only me who had read the original book, but I knew it would be a story that would appeal to the boys and again the award-winning staging of Christopher’s adventures from his home-town across London in search of answers and his Mum were inspiring.

If you do want to go down the musical route, then Billy Elliot, Jersey Boys and Sunny Afternoon would probably offer the best entertainment for teenagers. Remember that although extremely funny and touching on subjects that most teens will find hilarious The Book of Mormon has an age restriction of 17 years. My 14 year old is desperate to see it, but he’s going to have a wait a few years and hope it’s still going strong when he’s old enough!

lord-of-fliesNext month we are going to see Lord of the Flies at the Regent’s Park Open Air theatre. We were impressed with their production of To Kill A Mockingbird two years ago, so have great faith in this stage version of another book we have again all read as a family.

It has always given me, and suspect it always will, great joy to go to the theatre with my off-spring since I first took my eldest to Disney’s The Lion King when he was 5 years old and I hope that when they go off into the big wide world and start their own families they will continue to enjoy the theatre with their children.


A London Stop-off or Layover?

Read our Tips for a London Stopover

Are you looking for something to do on a London layover or maybe you are still looking for a place to stop off on your travels this year?

If you are lucky enough to have a one night stopover in London or are just able to spend a few hours there, on your travels this summer, then take advantage of the opportunity with a side trip to London’s Theatreland.

Whether you are avoiding an evening in a faceless airport hotel or looking for somewhere to entertain the kids mid journey, the easy access (including excellent airport transfers to and from the UK’s capital) makes a night at one of London’s world famous musicals and long-running shows, the perfect way to spend a stopover in London.

A London Stop off or layover

All four London international airports have direct train or underground links to the capital’s centre which makes it easy to book a theatre break in London.

However, before you dive in, let us give you a heads up on travel and show options, depending on which airport you are arriving at.

Heathrow Airport

The quickest way by far into central London is the Heathrow Express to Paddington station, but unfortunately Paddington isn’t close to any theatres. However, once you get there you could jump on the Bakerloo or Circle underground lines to Baker Street which will land you on the doorstep of Madame Tussauds and Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre (the latter being open May to September only).

If you want to get to the heart of the West End then you will need to catch the underground at Heathrow which is served by the Piccadilly line, but you should allow yourself at least 45 minutes to get into Theatreland.

The Piccadilly line stops at Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square and Covent Garden station all of which have theatres a stones throw away from their exits,

29 steps at the criterionAt Piccadilly Circus, you will find the comedy thriller The 39 Steps at the Criterion Theatre (booking until 5 th September 2015). With four actors playing all 139 parts, the stage version of the epic film loses none of its “wow” factor as characters are chased across the moors, the Fourth Bridge and through, round and over the Flying Scotsman.

Around the corner from the Criterion is Haymarket where you’ll find two theatres : the first one you get to on the right hand side is the Theatre Royal Haymarket which is currently hosting sold out performances of The Elephant Man until 8 th August 2015; however, you’ll have a better chance of seeing a show at Her Majesty’s theatre on the opposite side of the road where the “granddaddy of musicals” The Phantom of the Opera is now in its 29 th year.

On the corner of Coventry Street and Leicester Square is the Prince of Wales theatre where The Book of Mormon will have you rolling in the aisles.

Les Miserables in LondonYou can also walk to the Piccadillly, Gielgud, Apollo and Queens theatres from Piccadilly Circus. The latter is home to the phenomenon that is Les Miserables.

The next stop is Leicester Square where you are spoilt for choice with another eleven theatres being within walking distance, but the closest to the station are the Wyndham’s, the Garrick, Noel Coward and the Duke of York’s theatres. These four theatres often have limited season productions, but at time of writing the following shows can be seen…

Wyndham’s : new two-hander comedy The Mentalists starring Stephen Merchant from TVs Extras and Life’s Too Short (booking to 26 th September 2015).

Garrick : multi media tribute show to the fab four Let It Be which is booking to 6 th September 2015.

Noel Coward : a magic show for all the family Impossible, followed by Nicole Kidman starring in Photograph 51 from 15 th September to 21st November 2015

Duke of York’s : hosting two shows this summer… Until 1 st August 2015 there is Felicity Kendal and Simon Shepard starring in Noel Coward’s sharp witted farce Hay Fever and then from 3 rd August Hetty Feather moves in for the rest of the school holidays with child friendly-timed performances during the day and at weekends.

The MousetrapYou also have The Commitments,Bend It Like Beckham,Miss Saigon,The Mousetrap,Memphis and Stomp plus the English National Opera all within walking distance of this station too.

One stop north is Covent Garden and again you can easily walk to a total of ten theatres from this station, but I’ll give you the heads up on the closest ones.

Covent Garden is home to the Royal Opera House – not only famous for the high notes and number of pirouettes their singing and dancing divas can achieve, but also for the astronomical price they charge for tickets. But if you sit up in ‘the gods’ you won’t have to pay a king’s ransom to experience one of the classic operas and the ballet? Well, you’ll be glad to hear is slightly cheaper. I think it is because dancers don’t eat as much as singers!

Charlie and the chocolate factoryFun for all the family can be found at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane (which is not actually in Drury Lane – go figure) and at the Lyceum theatre which are showing Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Disney’s The Lion King respectively. For those that like to be scared then visit the Fortune theatre where The Woman in Black is still making audiences jump 26 years on from its first terrifying night. If jumping out of your seat with fright is not your thing, then you can find you inner dancing queen at the Novello theatre where feel-good Abba-tastic musical Mamma Mia is still packing them in eight performances a week.

Hotels are in abundance here, as you can image, but I can recommend the 4 star deluxe Radisson Blu Edwardian Mercer Street situated opposite the Cambridge theatre where Matilda is on; or for a no frills stop-over the 3 star Travelodge Covent Garden.

From Covent Garden the Piccadilly Line leaves Theatreland so do make sure you get off here otherwise you will end up in Cockfosters!

Gatwick & Luton Airports

Transfers from Gatwick to central London can be taken on Thameslink trains or the Gatwick Express.

Shakespeare's Globe TheatreUsing the Thameslink going north you can choose two destinations. The first being London Bridge where you can easily reach the world renown Shakespeare’s Globe on Bankside, Southwark. Here you will find an excellent season of The Bard’s work, which this summer includes As You Like It, Measure for Measure & Richard II, being produced in a thoroughly authentic Shakespearean setting. You can enjoy the experience from one of the wooden benches that surround the stage in thee “circles” or you can stand at the front with the peasants: dirt cheap and the perfect antidote for someone who has just spent 13 hours on a plane and is looking forward to another long journey the next day!

Hotel options here are the 4 star Mecure London Bridge or the Bermondsey Square hotel.

The Thameslink line runs all the way through London out to Luton International Airport, so if you are coming into the West End from that direction, you can disembark at St Pancras International train station and take the Piccadilly Line on the underground into the heart of Theatreland. For theatres that are easy to get to using the Piccadilly Line see Heathrow Airport section.

Your other option on Thameslink is to take a train via London Blackfriars station which is a cough and a spit away from the Playhouse theatre where you can see the critically acclaimed production of George Orwell’s 1984 (booking to 5 th September 2015).

Hotel options here are the 3 star Travelodge Waterloo or the Holiday Inn Southwark.

Please note that Thameslink trains no longer run between London Bridge and Blackfriars stations.

The Gatwick Express fast tracks its way to the hustle and bustle of Victoria Station where, some may argue, you need look no further for entertainment with two of London’s biggest musicals: Billy Elliot and Wicked.

billy-10-yearsBilly Elliot, at the Victoria Palace theatre just opposite the train station, is the stage adaptation of the 2000 BAFTA winning film with lyrics by Sir Elton John. It’s the story of a young Northern lad who goes against his “working class roots” to become a dancer. It is currently booking to 19 th December 2015.

Across the road at the Victoria Apollo you can enter the “green” world of Wicked – the untold story of the two witches from The Wizard of Oz. Long before Dorothy’s fateful journey on the Yellow Brick Road, Glinda and Elphaba meet at the University of Oz, but their paths in the world of magic spiral in completely different directions. The music, costumes and stage sets are stunning. Choose this show if you have an early start as it’s the shorter of the two by 15 minutes!

Hotel options here are the 4 star Double Tree by Hilton London Victoria or the 3 star Holiday Inn Express London Victoria.

Stansted Airport

Beautiful on a London stopoverFinally, if you arrive at Stansted you come directly into Liverpool Street to the east side of London. Here you can take the Central Line into the West End either alighting at Holborn station where you are able to walk to the Shaftesbury theatre – Memphis; the New London Theatre – the extraordinary War Horse; and the Aldwych theatre – multi award winning Beautiful : The Carole King Story. One stop on from Holborn is Tottenham Court Road, above which, you will find, the Dominion theatre, where you can see Michael Flatley’s electrifying Lord of the Dance : Dangerous Games.


So next time you have a few hours to spare in London, think of taking in a show – let’s face it: you are spoilt for choice!

What’s Hot In London in July?

Simon HardingOK, you are coming to London for a theatre break in July and you need something to do during the day. Of course there are the museums and the attractions and the parks,  but July has a few very special events to offer too.

Here are five great ideas of ways you can fill up your days when you come to London – whether you have a show to go to in the evening or you are just down for the weekend!

Summer Streets

Regent Street all Sundays in July 2015

Regent Street Hosts Summer Streets

Experience Regent Street at its best with the return of Summer Streets. Each Sunday will be a different theme. First will be “Garden Party” on 05 July followed by “Health Kick” on 12 July.

Fashion Festival (19/7) and Culture Club (26/7) will cover the third and fourth Sundays – it is just a pity there are not more!

These occasions are an ideal time to shop, dine and have a refreshing drink or two!

Kew The Music

Kew Gardens 07 – 12 July 2015

Kew Gardens is the place to be for one of the coolest summer music festivals. Acts include Paloma Faith, Jools Holland, UB40 and the Specials.

To go with the music you can also pre-order a yummy hamper or pick up some bites from the artisan food stalls and bar… or you can just BYO!

Note: If you fancy a short break to London featuring a visit to Kew Palace and gardens then check out our sister site, Royal Breaks

Bastille Festival

Bankside and Borough Market 12 July 2015

Bastille Festival is back for its eighth year at Bankside and Borough Market. Sample some French delicacies, enjoy live music and street performances and take part in a game of boules. For those left wanting more, the festivities will carry on at night with the Bal Populaire.

No Colour Bar: Black British Art in Action 1960-1990

Guildhall Art Gallery 10 July – 24 Jan 2016

The Guildhall Art Gallery celebrates Black British cultural heritage, social and political history. Particular focus will be put on the lives of activists Eric and Jessica Huntley and a number of prominent Black artists will be featured.

Eid Festival 2015

Trafalgar Square, 25 July 2015

Celebrate the Eid festival in Trafalgar Square to mark the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting. Sample a feast of worldly foods with stalls will be dishing up Malaysian, Turkish, Asian, Egyptian, Lebanese, Indonesian, and Arabic cuisine. Enjoy live music and performance, plus family activities such as face-painting, henna, calligraphy and sports

Stay cool out there!

All the best


Family Theatre Breaks in London this summer

Family tips - London in the summer

saraHi theatre-goers

Could it be that summer is finally here? I was up in London yesterday evening and it was lovely to wander around in a t-shirt, as were many others, and there’s an amazing atmosphere during the summer months in the capital.

So, why not make use of the long summer nights with a family theatre break to see brilliant kid Matilda the musical at the cambridge theatre londonfriendly shows such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda the Musical, Disney’s The Lion King and Wicked to name but a few and tie it in with a visit to one of the many events or attractions happening in England’s capital city.

Here are a few of my family favourites…

British museum for families in the summerWe love the world famous Madame Tussauds on Baker Street which is currently exhibiting the extra-ordinary Star Wars experience; plus many an hour can be spent looking at the amazing collections of Egyptian and Roman artefacts at the British Museum in the leafy area of Bloomsbury.

In the West End’s centre, Covent Garden, you’ll find the London Transport Museum which will fuel young minds and give them plenty of hands-on activities. For those with a penchant for the bizarre, don’t miss the mind blowing exhibits on show at Ripley’s Believe or Not museum on Piccadilly Circus.

Family tips - London in the summerFor a sight-seeing bonanza made remarkably easy, visit the Southbank for Sealife London Aquarium, the London Dungeons and the London Eye all situated next to each other. Further along past the National theatre, where you’ll find many street artists and second hand book stalls amongst other things, there a zillion & one restaurants to choose from including Strada, Yo Sushi!, Piemaster and Gourmet Pizza Co.

In the South West area of Kensington you will find the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum next to each other – both of which will visually stimulate your child’s brain no end and again these two museums could indeed take between four to six hours to explore fully.

You can add these and many more attractions to your London theatre break this summer when you book online.

So don’t avoid London this summer thinking that it’s a stuffy airless city, it is so vibrant and exciting and a place that will have the kids shouting for more, more, more.

What about booking a break to celebrate Father’s Day?



X-Factor Stars in London’s West End

Matt Cardle - Memphis theatre breaks

Sara benn
Hi Theatre-goers

I’ve been watching ITV’s the X-Factor on and off since 2005 (the first series completely passing me by) and with the announcement this week that the 2010 X-Factor winner Matt Cardle will be the successor to Killian Donnelly in the role of DJ Huey in the sensation musical Memphis at the Shaftesbury theatre, it made me think about all the other winners and runners ups from the tv talent show who may not be hitting No 1 in the charts but have forged out successful careers in musical theatre.

People often write off X-Factor for making ‘10 second stars’ who, after the obligatory Christmas No. 1, pretty much disappear off the planet, but there have actually been a good number of them who have used their 15 minutes fame to their advantage and not given up on the ‘performing music to a live audience’ dream.

Shayne WardI’ll start with the 2005 winner, Shayne Ward, who after initially having a string of top 20 hits in 2006, fell away into obscurity for a number of years until he popped up as the larger than life character of Stacee Jaxx in the 2011 West End production of Rock of Ages – the 1980’s inspired homage to big hair, blue denim and tight Lycra leggings. He has since dueted with Louise Dearman (Wicked) singing the Oscar winning song Falling Slowly from the musical Once; has toured the UK in the mammoth arena production of The War of the Worlds and has now landed a regular role in Coronation Street. The 2005 runner-up, Andy Abrahams, has recently appeared in the UK touring production of Godspell.

Runner up in 2006 was baby-faced Ray Quinn who was already destined for a life in the performing arts having started his career at a young age in the Channel 4 soap Brookside. But his success on the X-factor proved he could sing as well and he went on to star as Danny Zuko in the West End production of Grease at the Piccadilly theatre. He has since toured the UK extensively with many top-notch musicals including Legally Blonde, Dirty Dancing and The Rise & Fall of Little Voice. In between all that he won the 2009 series of ITV’s Dancing on Ice and was crowned the “All Stars” winner as the ice show came to an end in 2014. The winner in 2006, Leona Lewis, whilst not appearing in a musical theatre production did make her acting debut in 2014 in a musical film called Walking on Sunshine.

One of my all-time favourite X-Factor contestants was Rhydian Roberts who was runner up to Leon Jackson (Leon who???) in 2007. I’m a bit of a sucker for the velvet tones of a tenor voice, so was completely drawn in to Rhydian’s renditions of the Phantom of the Opera and the tear-jerker Somewhere (from West Side Story) during the competition. Rightly so, Rhydian went on to have a successful recording career with two top 20 studio albums and performing in a number of hit musical theatre productions including The War of the Worlds, Grease, We Will Rock You and the Rocky Horror Picture Show. He can currently be seen as Pilate in the UK tour of Jesus Christ Superstar. I already have my tickets booked!

Alexandra Burke - Edinburgh The Bodyguard2008’s winner Alexandra Burke started off as a pop-princess with enviable chart success, but then went the way as many X-Factor contestants and lay dormant for a number of years before making her West End stage debut as Rachel Marron in the phenomenal The Bodyguard at the Adelphi theatre in 2013. She is now touring around the UK with the same production.

I’ve already mentioned one of my all-time favourite contestants, but in 2009 Rhydian was topped by winner Joe McElderry. Although Joe failed to have chart success immediately after the X-Factor I always thought he should find his way into musical theatre – especially Les Miserables but what do I know? Over the last 5 years he’s released 4 successful studio albums (two of them getting into the top 3) and was the winner of tv reality shows Popstar to Opera Star (Series 2) and Channel 4’s The Jump in 2014. In 2012, he took my advice and began his musical theatre career with a cameo appearance in Dirty Dancing at the Sunderland Empire, followed by a one-off appearance as Tommy in The Who’s Tommy at the Prince Edward Theatre and appeared in Thriller – Live alongside Stooshe and Macy Gray. Joe Mcelderry in The Who's Tommy

This year he reprises his role as Tommy at the Blackpool Opera House for a two week run in September. Again, my tickets plus B&B are booked.

And so we come to 2010 and that year’s winner Matt Cardle who, I thought, did have a very “sellable” voice. I was surprised when he didn’t do as well as predicted in the singles charts. Anyway, he certainly didn’t give up on his musical dream and was picked personally by Memphis star Beverley Knight to take over as her leading man which he will do from 6th July 2015.

Kinky Boots Theatre Breaks in LondonAnd finally, 2011 runner up Marcus Collins has carved out a successful musical theatre career within the UK touring production of Hairspray and will soon be seen in this year’s London premiere of Kinky Boots with Killian Donnelly – that man making way for Matt Cardle.

Now is that a “six degrees of separation” scenario or what?

Well, that blog was a bit of a mini-production in itself! I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I have enjoyed researching and writing it.

Have a great rest of the week