Monday, 23 July 2018

Theatre Review: Bold Girls

I like occasionally going to Not In London theatres. And it really doesn’t get more Not In London, geographically or atmospherically, than Keswick’s Theatre By The Lake.

Those of you with nothing better to do than follow two year’s worth of my nonsense will recall that I’ve been to TBTL before  and loved both their cake and their studio staging of Rona Munro plays (Iron on that occasion). And, whilst I can’t comment on the continuing quality of their cake (though the ice cream was excellent), I’m happy to report that their studio staging of Rona Munro pays have certainly not decreased in quality in the past two years.

The Munro they’re reviving for 2018 is her breakthrough piece, Bold Girls. Set in Northern Ireland during The Troubles, Bold Girls tells the stories of some of the women - wives, mothers and daughters - left behind as their heroic/criminal men (delete as appropriate) are killed or sent to prison. Mercifully, this is not an issue play. Though it never shies away or sugar coats the reality of The Troubles, it’s also not really interested in them as a political phenomenon. Munro is far more interested in the way that they impacted on the ordinary lives of ordinary women. Not just in the way it left them widowed, fatherless and sonless but in far more mundane ways. How do you get to your night out when there’s a roadblock in the way? How do you keep a garden or a house when British soldiers and Irish militants keep running through it? How do you actually exist, in other words, when terror and violence is literally on your doorstep all the time?

At times, this is played for bleak, black laughs. The idea that the three women stand in a minute’s silence for the latest local victim, but none of them can remember his name and are more concerned by the fact they might fall off their heels. The outrage of the oldest character in the play that her flowers have been trampled despite the fact she’s the only one in the street who has any. The giggling joy with which petty humiliations of British soldiers are recounted. The terror and violence are normalised and even mundane. It’s perfectly possible to live with them. Right up until the point when it isn’t. 

Bold Girls is about the different, equally ineffective, ways the women choose to try and reclaim their ives from this. Quiet, desperate stoicism, living all the small lies necessary to convince yourself it is actually ok (Marie). Defiance and small acts of rebellion, that change nothing and get you beaten up for your troubles (Nora). Try and escape it completely, in the arms of men who aren’t your jailed husband and through scrimping together every penny you can to try and buy a ferry ticket (Cassie). Worst of all, be a child of it so that your only possible response is to simply exist (Deirdre). 

I think where this play is at its absolute best, though, is when it gets into the more complicated (and perhaps more universal) issues around gender. It’s a very conscious choice on Munro’s part to make this play just about the women left behind; though plenty of sons and brothers are mentioned in passing, none of them ever appear. Because part of the violence and terror that these women face comes from within their relationships with the men in their lives. Cheating husbands, violent husbands, drunk husbands, brothers who monopolise their mother’s love, fathers who dominate their daughter’s universes. Society is only prepared to see these women as part of the heroic/criminal men whose orbits they fall into: as one character sums it up, “I’ve no story”. Munro calls bullshit on this and it’s great. She dissects the relationship between women and men at the time and the toxic masculinity that The Troubles normalised whilst devoting more time to telling these women’s stories as they should be told: with them at the centre and their relationship with each other at the heart (there is yet more amazing stuff on mothers and daughters too, as seen so often in Munro’s work). 

I love this play, in short. And I love Rona Munro even more than I already did after seeing it. 

Theatre By The Lake have certainly done it justice too. Their dinky (80 seat, by my count) studio is a great space for a chamber piece like this. It’s intimate enough to get up close and personal; versatile enough to be able to do some interesting things with the staging. Bobby Brook directs with exactly the sort of focus and heart it needs. It’s an enormously clear telling of the story and a well paced show too (though the interval is entirely unnecessary and, one suspects, included only for the purposes of the theatre’s bar revenue - which is sort of fair enough in this venue). Louie Whitemore’s design makes great use of the space. The sound (especially the music) and the lighting are great. The set is clever - authentically feeling like both a front room and a social club, the transformation from one to the other particularly well done and a great use of sparkly gold tinselly stuff. 

The cast of four are great too. One, Christine Entwisle, is somewhat miscast, playing Nora who is supposed to be a generation older than two of the other characters (and two generations older than the fourth) despite all the actresses being roughly the same age. It feels a bit Mrs Merton and takes away from the power the character could have, though Entwisle isn’t to blame here - she works as hard as everyone else but just has that much more to try and overcome. Lydea Perkins is great as the vulnerable, mysterious and dangerous Deirdre. She sells the mystery over her character’s identity perfectly (I didn’t guess it until the big reveal) as well as appearing vulnerable, sad and angry. Sarah Kempton’s Marie is endlessly sympathetic. Her anguish when she realises who Deirdre is - and who she shows Marie’s husband to have been - is powerfully raw and heartbreaking. Alice Imelda’s wayward and tragic Cassie is my pick though. So charismatic, so sassy, so complicated and so sad. She also gives us the best Irish accent of the four too, managing the tendency for it to wander better than the others do. 

Bold Girls is yet another fantastic Rona Munro play - is there a fan club or do I have to start one? - in yet another fantastic production at Theatre By The Lake. As specialisms go, Rona Munro in tiny theatres in one I’m very much here for. And you just can’t argue with that front of house view...

Bold Girls is at Theatre By The Lake until 24th October, after which it will transfer, along with the rest of the TBTL summer season, to York Theatre Royal from 6-17 November.

My seat for this one was A4 and the ticket was generously provided by Theatre By The Lake. 

Friday, 20 July 2018

Theatre Review: The Lehman Trilogy

The financial crash of 2008 has much to answer for, I think. Top of the list? Brexit and President Trump.

One thing it has yet to really produce though, for my money (pun intended), is any really great theatre. Or perhaps I should qualify that statement: no really great theatre in English. 

Because it turns out the great 2008 play I was waiting for had in fact been written - in Italian, by Stefano Massini. The play has also been seen in French and German. And now, finally, in English: adapted by Ben Power,  The Lehman Trilogy is currently playing at the Lytellton in the NT. 

First of all it’s worth saying that I’m being slightly disingenuous calling it a play about the 2008 crash. Because, although that’s where the play starts and ends, it’s very much not what it’s about. Perhaps the best way to explain it is this: it’s a play about the Lehman brothers, not Lehman Brothers. It’s a story, therefore, that I’m guessing 99% of the audience don’t know, instead of one that 99% of them do. I found it an absolutely fascinating story, or part of a story, and I love Massini for picking out this bit. 

Also, I love him and Ben Power for the fact that The Lehman Trilogy is just a bloody fantastic piece of writing: gripping, funny, tender, superbly well observed, immaculately researched and a story brilliantly told. Structurally, it’s super interesting too. As Power notes in his programme essay, it’s almost more of a poem than a play - there’s a lot of repetition, a lot of rhetorical flourishes, clear line by line structure - and feels as close to the Ancient Greek tradition as the modern European. Practically, what this means is the actors have two roles: talking about their characters’ stories in the third person (but in character) and telling the story as their character in the first person as well. Sounds a bit wanky, but it really works. Once you get your ear into it, it’s a really engrossing way of telling the story. As is the fact that, the bookending, silent 2008 scenes aside, this play is a three hander with the same three actors playing the three brothers, their wives, business partners and children. Again, it sounds a bit GCSE drama final project but, again, it totally works.

I think one of the reasons why it works is because it draws out one of the key themes of the play: family, and specifically the way family history impacts on your identity. It’s no accident that the play ends before the 2008 crash - because at that point the bank was no longer family owned. It wasn’t really Lehman Brothers anymore. Identity is picked up in other ways too, national identity (the way America fell out of love with the glamour and power of the big banks - or perhaps vice versa) and the role of immigration in forming personal and national identity. There’s some really touching material about the declining importance of the family’s European Jewishness, both in the way they observe their religious traditions and in the way they interact with American society more broadly. And, in current circumstances, it’s hard not to see the play as a timely corrective on the role and benefits of immigration. I mean, how amazing is it that three Jewish immigrants can rock up in America, set up a rural store in the Deep South and end up running America’s biggest bank in pretty much a single generation? Stick that on your stupid wall and smoke it.

The NT’s production is directed by Sam Mendes so I probably don’t need to say too much more about the standard of it. Mendes has a very clear vision of the story and how to tell it that he delivers with conviction, verve and - thankfully - pace. This is a long old play (almost three and a half hours, two intervals) but it utterly flies by. Es Devlin’s set is ingenious, using the three rooms of the 2008 glass walled office to tell the entire story. The use of the revolve is great, as is the use of filing boxes (no, really). If I’m being picky, I would only say it would help if the roof of the set were glass as well as the walls to marginally improve the otherwise excellent sight lines from the very top of the auditorium. Luke Halls’ video design is amazing, and never better than the dizzying act three sequences that literally come with a health warning. This is a real piece of class from the NT as well as an achievement of considerable theatrical magic.

The class and magic continue into the cast; a relief given that the wrong three actors could absolutely destroy this play. It’s a demanding thing for all of them. Each of the three has multiple parts of varying ages, genders, accents, backgrounds and nationalities. There are no costume changes, bar the occasional addition of a hat or pair of glasses, so the onus is on them to deliver a cast of recognisable, and recognisably different, characters through sheer skill. The three actors cast in this production - Adam Godley, Ben Miles and Simon Russell Beale - are, it almost goes without saying, perfect. It’s an absolute thrill to watch them from a purely technical point of view, when the storytelling is added on top it’s just a gift. I don’t even need to tell you that Simon Russell Beale is excellent because when is he not? He’s on electric form here and having so much fun as the actor with the greatest variety of parts (because his Lehman brother dies first), several of them women who he plays magnificently. Ben Miles, who I just adore in everything, is commanding and charismatic. I found it difficult to tear my eyes off him, especially during the dance section. Dude has moves (and a great beard). Adam Godley brings quiet depth and exuberant fun to his roles. He seems to get the bulk of the child and infant roles and is implausibly good at them. It is, in short, an absolute master class in versatility as an actor. An utter joy to watch.

There’s only one problem with The Lehman Trilogy. It’s a brilliant play, a brilliant production and the best cast anywhere in London at the moment, but it’s also sold out. Yeah, sorry about that. However, this is worth the faff of trying to get day tickets or returns; not something I say often. Keep an eye on the NT’s social feeds for the least bothersome version, their excellent Friday Rush scheme

The Lehman Trilogy is in the Lytellton at the NT (in rep) until 20th October.

My seat for this one was J20 in the circle. I paid £34 for the privilege (a rare sincere use of ‘privilege’ from me there).

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Theatre Review: A Monster Calls

You know those ‘if you’ve been affected by the issues in this programme...’ messages you get sometimes after particularly traumatic documentaries and/or episodes of Hollyoaks? Have you ever seen one in a theatre before?

I certainly hadn’t, until A Monster Calls at the Old Vic. I saw it in the ladies’ loos, pre-show, and I was confused. 

Here’s the thing: I haven’t read the book A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness, or seen the film (I didn’t even know there was a film). I didn’t know what it was about. I’d just seen the production images and thought it looked cool. 

I was in no way emotionally prepared for what was to come over the next two and a half hours: having my emotions ripped out through my eye sockets and leaving the theatre a human puddle. I exaggerate, but only slightly.

For those who, like me, don’t know A Monster Calls - and without giving everything away - it’s about a kid coming to terms with the fact that his mum has terminal cancer and, specifically, the complicated, horrible and human emotions that he has to process. It’s a play about death, why we’re scared of it, and why it’s ok to be scared of it. It is profoundly moving, phenomenally powerful and a fantastic choice for a theatrical litererary adaptation. 

The particular version of the story on show in this production is unique. It’s a ‘devised’ production, drawn up over the course of the rehearsal period by director Sally Cookson, writer in the room (nope, me neither) Adam Peck, and the company. I don’t know if what they’ve created is faithful to Patrick Ness’ original prose - and neither do I especially care - but it is an absolutely beautiful, fresh and touching piece of writing. The emotional depths it reaches are astonishing, the characters it creates are sympathetic and complex, the way it revels in the power of story telling is a joy. Most of all, the way it approaches and examines its key themes - the mindfuck emotions involved in losing a loved one - is extraordinary. Softly, kindly, it pulls you towards its inevitable conclusion and holds your hand as it forces you to face up to, essentially, death. It’s as intricate and heartbreaking a study of grief as I’ve ever seen. And I know I cry at everything all the time, but Jesus Christ I CRIED at this. I cried, I reckon, for a full, uninterrupted half an hour of the second act and a few other bits as well. I cried until my eyes hurt, but my heart didn’t. 

As well as the emotional power of the play, the production is heartstoppingly beautiful and almost unfathomably clever. This really could be an unstagable work but Sally Cookson’s production absolutely nails every last detail. She’s created a beautiful and unique (words I’m using a lot in this post, intentionally so) world and is totally committed to the story and her vision of it. Michael Vale’s set is astonishing and meets the key challenge of this piece - The Monster is literal, he has to actually appear - in such an innovative way. Using a set of ropes and pulleys to create the yew tree that The Monster inhabits, with cast members suspended in it as necessary, is genius. Matt Costain’s brilliant, occasionally Cirque du Soleil-esque, aerial work makes perfect use of it too. Set against Dick Straker’s beautiful, but also genuinely frightening, projection everything combines to create one of those theatrical images that will stay with me for a very, very long time.

Also of note is Aideen Malone’s lighting which is used so effectively to communicate place by casting the shapes of various different types of window onto the stage. Sounds weird, looks amazing. The production sounds amazing too, thanks largely to Benji Bowers’ incredible music and soundscape. That the lush, vivid, evocative wall of noise he creates is achieved by only two musicians (Bowers himself and brother Will) is kind of mind blowing.

This production is a real ensemble piece which I always find fascinating to watch; especially so in this case since the ensemble do so much to physically create the world of the show as well as just act in it. As the only actor who gets to do just one thing - play Conor, the kid at the heart of the story - Matthew Tennyson is brilliant, perfectly incapsulating the anger, sadness, guilt and fear that grief always comprises. Stuart Goodwin is a fantastically charismatic, comforting and threatening Monster. Marianne Oldham is heartbreaking as Conor’s mum - especially so given she has to drive so much of the narrative in relatively little stage time. But really it’s not the individual performances that make this show. It’s watching the whole cast very literally work together to create a world and tell a story that’s so thrilling. 

At it’s very best, theatre can be both transformative and transport you to another world. A Monster Calls absolutely is and does both. I cried like a baby and marvelled at the theatre craft. I came away with a better understanding of grief than I think I’ve ever had and a deep thankfulness for a few hours spent thoroughly immersed in a story. In my glorious rule, this production will be available on the NHS. 

Oh, and in case you thought I was joking...

A Monster Calls is at the Old Vic until 25th August.

I sat in seat C31 in the Lilian Baylis Circle for this show and paid £5 (yes £5: FIVE POUNDS) for my completely unobstructed view seat at a preview performance. I challenge anyone to come up with a better way to spend a fiver in London this summer. 

Saturday, 14 July 2018

Being a Theatre Lover Without Going Broke: A Guide

A question I get asked a lot is: ‘how do you manage to go to the theatre so often?’ I always want to respond: ‘how do you manage WITHOUT going to the theatre so often?’ Like, how do people manage to process and escape the world and their own thoughts without the theatre? I don’t understand.

But let’s be honest, no one who asks me that question is after a philosophical lecture on the power of theatre. The question they’re actually asking is ‘how do you afford to go to the theatre so often?’ It’s a fair question, it’s not the cheapest of hobbies. And if you only ever read the frequent articles about top price premium tickets in the big West End shows I can totally get why you would think that going more often than one or twice a year is the preserve of Russian oligarchs and the Queen. 

I don’t claim to be an expert in theatrical bargain hunting, but I do go a fair bit and have yet to go bankrupt. Below are my top ten tips should you wish to do likewise. 

Ten tips, and a dose of realness too. Because of course the main reason I can afford to go to the theatre so often is because, relatively speaking, I’m in an enormously privileged position. Don’t punch me, I’m not saying I’m rich or anything and this is not a god awful humblebrag of any kind. It’s just a fact that life has, to date, dealt me the sort of hand which allows me to splash money on theatre tickets. I have a job that pays reasonably and lets me leave on time; I live close enough to London to be able to get there in less than an hour and for less than £15 but far enough away that I’ve managed to buy my own place and so avoid the frankly obscene South East England rental market; I don’t drive or smoke or drink much in the week; I don’t have any dependents to worry about; I’m the sort of white, middle class, able bodied, cis gender person that theatre is still made for and marketed to to a depressing extent; I have, in short, a level of disposable income and fortuitousness of circumstance which I fully appreciate I am very lucky to have. But, y’know, I love a bargain as much as the next person so on we go.

1. Know your limits
Just don’t spend too much. Literally, just don’t do it. Super helpful advice right? To expand, what I mean is know roughly how much you have/want to spend on theatre each month and know roughly what tickets you want to buy each month. From there the maths roughly does itself. It will force you to make some tough decisions sometimes (sorry, The King and I, I just don’t want you enough) but it is the number one thing you can do to stop yourself going massively into your overdraft. I do this religiously, changing my rough amount of spend every month depending on what else is going on in my life and how important everything is relative to everything else. This month I’m reigning the spending in - after a super spenny drop on new season NT tickets last month - because there’s other stuff going on in my life that I value more than theatre (there are a few things). So my ticket buying has been limited to The Jungle (£20) and A Monster Calls (£5 - FIVE POUNDS). I get my theatre fix, but still have money to spend on the rest of life. Win win. 

2. Do your research
A related point, but knowing what’s on, what’s coming, what’s about to go on sale and what anything you’re interested in will cost is the backbone of successfully not bankrupting yourself. Join all the mailing lists, follow all the social accounts, have a look at as much prior info about shows you want to see as you can (including, crucially, price bands and seating charts) before payday. A top tip within a top tip here is not to be put off by headlines about top price tickets, because even the most expensive shows will have some ok-priced tickets. You just need to know where to look for them. In many cases it’s honestly just as simple as looking on the theatre’s website itself and seeing what’s behind that scary headline. 

3. Discount schemes are your friend
Basically every show these days has some way of getting cheap tickets, even the West End big guys. The biggest and still the best is the NT’s Travelex £15 season, a particular joy because it includes so many tickets and there’s no such thing as a bad seat at the Nash. Loads of places have particular discounts for all you young bastards too (off the top of my head, the Hampstead and the Bridge are particularly good for the under 30s). Loads of West End shows have a cheap lottery in some form or another for certain seats at each performance - I’ve heard particularly good things about the one for Hamilton (whose seats generally, by the way, are nowhere near as expensive as people seem to think). 

4. Previews? Also your friend
Previews - shows before the production is officially shown to the press and declared open - are a gift for budgeting. And whilst it’s true that a show can change entirely between first preview and opening night, the fact is most don’t. The quality of the performance is rarely less than utterly polished (early previews sometimes run a bit long) and there’s a certain thrill to seeing a show when the actors are still feeling their way into it. It’s pretty standard now for most new productions to offer a reduction across all their ticket prices; not by a huge amount but by enough to be helpful. Of particular note are The Old Vic’s £10 Previews which are always great. Only available five weeks in advance, half the OV’s huge auditorium is available for £10 including many of the usually top price stalls tickets. Utterly bargainous.

5. Book really early or really late
Cheap day seats (ie seats bought on the day for that day) are increasingly a thing now. Not just the ones you have to physically queue up and pay for in person (honestly, who has time?) but the lotteries I just mentioned are often done that way too. New tech has really made the day seat a more attractive option. Schemes like the Donmar’s Klaxon and NT’s Friday Rush allow you to buy cheap tickets for the following week’s shows if you like a bit more advance planning. If you’re like me though and want stuff booked weeks if not months in advance then booking as soon as you can is a great option too: the earlier you book the more options you’ll have. Booking on the day tickets are released is my bag and has been how I’ve got probably 80% of my best deals (£15 seats for every single Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company and Michael Grandage West End season show, for example) If you can book in a pre-sale period, more’s the better. Which brings me on to...

6. Membership schemes are worth it
Ok, so this adds another layer of cost but theatre membership schemes are worth considering. Basically, you give them money, they give you early access to ticket sales (and other nice things). I am, somewhat ridiculously, a member of three theatres now: the NT, the Old Vic and the Bridge (who do a young membership package up to age 35 for which I love them dearly). I always use their members’ pre-sale and it’s landed me some seriously good seats across the board. Yes they’re a (small) investment but they do yield a return if you use them right. Plus you get the nice fuzzy feeling of supporting the theatre generally. Can’t justify the cost? All of them can be bought as gifts - one for your Christmas list perhaps? My parents have been buying my OV membership as a Christmas gift for years now.

7. TodayTix
I’ve generally tried to avoid singling out individual companies, mailing lists etc because in truth I use so many that that would be impossible. But one thing that I am religiously devoted to and use all the time is the TodayTix theatre ticket app. It’s amazing for things like Rush tickets (you tweet about a show to access cheap, last minute tickets), lotteries, pre-sales, flash sales and booking fee discount days. It’s also incredibly easy to use and they don’t sell seats with restricted views so you have a bit of confidence about what you’re buying even when it’s a dirt cheap ticket. It’s such a great app and has delivered for me so many times. I love it (and no, this is is no way a sponsored post, just to be clear). 

8. Places other than London exist
If you can get out of London, you’ll find your money goes so much further. Think about regional theatres (that more Londoners don’t come out to Chichester in my neck of the woods is baffling to me), think about touring productions, think about theatres outside zones 1-4. By way of example, I saw a production of This House in the West End on which I happily splashed out (see below) £65 for a third row stalls seat. A marginally better third row stalls seat for the subsequent tour of the same This House at the Yvonne Arnauld theatre in Guildford came to £34.50. Admittedly the West End version was better cast, but still. A £30 difference is not to be sniffed at. And I’m not sure I’ve ever spent more than £20 on a ticket at Chichester, including good front stalls seats for all of their musicals (I have Me and My Girl coming up next month, front row stalls seats at £10 each). This isn’t an option for everyone, or for every production, but it’s worth considering when you can.

9. Have no friends
Look, getting a cheap ticket is easier than getting four cheap tickets. Or, if you’re less anti-social than me, getting four separate cheap tickets and meeting up in the bar at the interval is easier than getting four cheap tickets together and sitting in the dark not talking to each other until you go to the bar in the interval. Whichever, they both work. If you’re happy to not sit with your friends then The Bush’s excellent Count Me In scheme is for you: you give them £10 per (guaranteed) seat, they allocate them wherever there are gaps to be filled, valid on all performances in their no-bad-seats main house. I wish more places did this sort of thing.

10. Splash out sometimes
There is a section of theatre Twitter that will consider this heresy, but if you’re really excited about a production for whatever reason and want to splash out on a really good seat then fucking do it. As long as you can ultimately afford it, it’s honestly the best to go and sit with the rich kids sometimes. Don’t feel guilty about it, don’t feel the need to explain or justify it, just enjoy it. I do this a few times a year. Recent examples, all of which were amazing experiences, include Everybody’s Talking About Jamie (my birthday present to myself), This House (because James Graham), The Hairy Ape (because Bertie Carvel) and Ink (because James Graham AND Bertie Carvel and sweet fuck I was so happy). I don’t normally pay more than £30 at most for a single ticket, but if it’s something I really want to see up close then I’m happy to. All of the above were £45 - £65 and I regret absolutely nothing about spending that money. 

Sunday, 8 July 2018

Best of London Theatres

Theatres as buildings and places to just, like, go regardless of whether you’re seeing a show wasn’t really something I thought about until I moved down south and my theatre-going expanded beyond the West End.

Because, let’s be honest, West End theatres are not great. They’re crowded, they’re uncomfortable and the facilities they provide are all to do with raising revenue and very little to do with actually providing a nice experience for their audience. AND THEY HAVE TOO FEW LADIES’ TOILETS BY A FACTOR OF ABOUT A MILLION. (I feel strongly about this. I make no apologies for mentioning it many times in the next few hundred words.) In some senses, I do get why this is the case. Another thing that the majority of West End theatres are is old. They occupy prime, expensive, but virtually unalterable real estate that restricts what they can do even if their owners and operators have the best will in the world. West End theatres are a means to an end: you go there to see a show, and maybe buy a drink and a programme. And, at the end of the day, that’s fine. 

Away from the West End though, theatres are often so much more than an auditorium with a bar and (not enough) toilets stuck on. Thought has gone into their design. Thought has gone into the service and facilities they offer their audiences. Thought has gone into their programmes. Thought has gone into their wine lists and their ice creams and their coffee. 

More of this sort of thing, I say. The appeal of the theatre should not begin and end in the auditorium. They should be nice places to be. Here are some that I think are...

Best Building
I mean, it’s got to be The Bridge. No contest. London’s newest theatre is also it’s most beautiful by a country fucking mile. 

Not only that, though, it’s the most functional: plenty of front of house space, WiFi, amazing food and drink offerings (of which more later), water fountains and - that holiest of holy grails - plentiful ladies’ toilets. Check out the downstairs ones for some of the most beautiful loos, and best selfie lighting, in London. Shout out too to The Victoria Palace, which has been transformed by Cameron Mackintosh’s pre-Hamilton renovation. This shows what can be done with a traditional, old building if someone is willing and able to chuck bucket loads of cash at it. The bars are huge and gorgeous, the layout is sensible, the toilets are luxurious (and there’s almost enough of them) and the decor is stunning. The one West End (well, ish) theatre I actively enjoyed the interval in. Their white wine is pretty solid too.

Best Building to Hang Out in During the Day
Bit of a niche one, but as someone who often needs somewhere to work in London during the day this is important to me. It’s all about the good old National Theatre here. Excellent free WiFi, loads of seats and quiet spaces to hide in, loads of food and drink options, plenty of loos, inside and outside space. I spend a lot of my life here. Like, a statistically relevant percentage. It’s a bit further out, but I also love spending time in The Bush. Their library cafe is adorable, their WiFi reliable and the vibe so chilled. Surely the nicest theatre terrace in London too.

Let’s Talk Food
I have a lot of opinions about theatres and food, and have done extensive research to back them up. Especially on the wine. You can trust me on these recommendations guys.

I love a theatre restaurant, and the NT’s counter service Kitchen and the Young Vic’s sit down The Cut are my favourites. Kitchen is great value and reliably nice food. It’s not super exciting, but it’s solidly good. It’s especially good for cake: watch out for the amazing pistachio and rose Chelsea buns, the size of your head scones and my perennial favourite lemon polenta cake. The Cut is more expensive but also better. Their waiting staff are always lovely too. I recommend their tapas, their inevitably implausible-sounding-but-successful veggie burger (the beetroot and quinoa with plantain, pea hummus and cheddar cheese is my favourite) and the chocolate fondant. When they have it on, the peanut butter hot chocolate is a thing of beauty also.

When it comes to interval snacks there’s only one game in town: The Bridge’s fresh baked madeleines. Believe the hype - they’re off the chart good. I could eat them forever. 

If you’re an ice cream loyalist, then head to The Almeida for the best selection (or, if you’re a bit further afield, The RSC in its Stratford Upon Avon home). The best wine selection is at The Bridge (pricey but worth it, their whites are particularly good) and The Donmar (it’s sauv blanc is great). Need waking up? The Bridge and The Bush have the best coffee. Get an almond latte at the former and an oat latte at the latter. The NT has the best hot chocolate. The Young Vic has the best teas. 

Hanging around for a post-show drink? Mark’s Bar at The Old Vic is a deeply strange idea (an open to the public bar in the front of house area of their circle) but does amazing, strong as fuck cocktails. It’s not cheap but it is very good. The NT’s Understudy is a great option too. It’s selection of wines and on tap beers is the absolute best. It also sells sweets by the glass and who doesn’t want that?

Nicest Staff
Oh hai The Bush. I’ve never met a member of staff there who is anything less than extremely helpful and unremittingly cheerful. It makes a bigger difference than I think some theatres realise - especially to people who go to a lot of shows.

Best Programmes
If you’re a programme person - and I very much am - then shelling out £4+ for, essentially, a booklet of adverts for other shows is the most crushing thing (looking at you, Really Useful Theatres). But if you actually want some useful reading around a production then your £4 is well spent at the NT and The Bridge. The latter are my particular favourites as the design is so nice and the people they get to write their programme essays are always so interesting - Tristram Hunt for Young Marx and Mary Beard for Julius Caesar were both great and the short story for My Name Is Lucy Barton is probably my favourite bit of writing in a programme ever. The NT is the original best practice programme: functional, good content, good photos. A large portion of my flat is occupied by my collection of them. Their rehearsal photo selection is always the best in the business. 

Best Shopping
Ok, so this is a less intrinsic part of the theatre experience but I wanted to include it purely because I love the NT Bookshop so much and I want that recorded. Show merch, a more or less unbeatable selection of playtexts (not just for NT shows) and other thespy reading material, some beautiful design pieces, greetings cards, stationary, programmes, industry magazines and other assorted cool stuff. I could live here. 

So, that’s my list but what have I missed? Or where have I missed? Think all of my recommendations are nonsense? Tell me! Especially if you know where the good wine’s at.