Guide to summer theatre in London

No matter the weather, rain or shine, you can enjoy London's West End with this guide that is full to the brim of top tips for seeing theatre this summer.

Marianka Swain
Marianka Swain

Summer in London is a special time for theatre. We get the joy of the outdoor theatre season led by open-air venues like Shakespeare’s Globe and Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, pop-up festivals, and special events like the National Theatre’s River Stage festival. Of course, there are still tons of great shows indoors as well since we can’t always count on the British weather!

Summer 2023 looks to be particularly good news for fans of musicals, with both intriguing new shows and exciting revivals, but there are also plenty of engaging plays and comedies. Not to mention the plethora of family shows, perfect for introducing young audiences to theatre during the school holidays.

In fact, the biggest challenge this summer is probably figuring out where to start! So, dig into our handy guide to all things summer theatre in London – from family-friendly productions to outdoor shows, indoor air conditioning, and our picks for the best shows to book for this summer season.

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Shows to see in London this summer

There are some hot, hot, hot productions in town this summer – and there’s something to suit every possible taste. If you love classic musicals, you won’t want to miss the fabulous tap dancing in 42nd Street and Crazy for You, or returning favourites like Grease, The Wizard of Oz, and We Will Rock You. Groundhog Day is also playing at the Old Vic (again!).

There are groundbreaking new musicals, too, like the Broadway transfer A Strange Loop. And how will La Cage aux Folles fare at Regent’s Park, the venue which has completely transformed familiar musicals in recent years? There’s only one way to find out…

As for plays, there are thought-provoking productions – with plenty to say about our world – such as Patriots and The Crucible. Or if you just want a really good laugh this summer, check out the enduring farce The Play That Goes Wrong or the Dickens spoof Bleak Expectations.

Check out our full list of West End summer show recommendations and West End summer musicals.

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Shows to see with kids in London this summer

With the schools breaking up for summer, this is a brilliant opportunity to plan a family theatre trip and either introduce young audiences to theatre or fuel their passion for it with a production aimed at kids. It’s also a great way to fill those long school holiday weeks and keep everyone entertained!

Happily, there are loads of London shows that fit the bill. Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre is a must, with its new twist on a legendary folk hero – Robin Hood. The Legend. Re-written. – plus The Tempest re-imagined for everyone aged six or over, and the ever-popular Dinosaur World Live.

Of course there are also long-running West End family favourites like Disney’s Frozen and The Lion King, Matilda and Back to the Future. Plus you can book for exciting new musicals like Mrs. Doubtfire, which are sure to be a hit with the whole family.

Find out about taking children to the West End in our family-friendly theatre guide.

Don’t wait too long, though – shows get busy during the summer holidays, so plan your trip now and buy your tickets on London Theatre.

Book tickets to family-friendly shows on London Theatre.

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Are London theatres air-conditioned?

Not all London theatres have air conditioning, unfortunately, so it can get a bit sweltering during summer – especially if we get another heatwave. Make sure you take plenty of water with you and get some fresh air in the interval.

However, quite a few venues do now have air con – so prepare for that too. It might mean bringing another layer, like a jumper or scarf, if you’ve come directly from the park in your shorts, T-shirt, and sandals.

Here are the West End and Off-West End venues that do have air conditioning.

Theatre Royal Drury Lane

Appropriately enough, that’s home to Disney’s Frozen! And you’ll definitely stay cool in this recently refurbished West End venue.

Book Frozen tickets on London Theatre.

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Old Vic

There’s a wintry feeling here as well, with the theatre currently hosting a fresh run of the musical Groundhog Day – and lovely air conditioning to match.

Book Groundhog Day tickets on London Theatre.

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Soho Place

London’s newest venue is cool in both senses of the word. It has air conditioning, and must-see programming too – like its current show, a stage adaptation of Brokeback Mountain.

Book Brokeback Mountain tickets on London Theatre.

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Adelphi Theatre

Time travel can be strenuous work. Thank goodness, then, that both cast and audiences can benefit from air con while enjoyed Back to the Future: The Musical.

Book Back to the Future: The Musical tickets on London Theatre.

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Fortune Theatre

The ingenious gang who dreamed up Operation Mincemeat (actually, two gangs: the original wartime heroes and the team who created a musical about them) would appreciate the Fortune’s excellent air conditioning.

Find a full list of London theatres with air conditioning and air cooling systems here.

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Best outdoor venues in London

There’s nothing quite like al fresco theatre, with nature playing its part in how each performance plays out live, and the light gradually falling during an evening show. It’s pure magic. London has several venues offering up that incredible experience, including the Globe and Regent’s Park.

Shakespeare’s Globe

This is the place to be (or not to be – no, definitely to be!) if you love outdoor summer theatre. Shakespeare’s Globe is a detailed reconstruction of a 16th-century playing space, which means you can watch plays there in the conditions they were originally designed for – basically letting you feel like you’re in Shakespeare’s actual audience.

This summer’s shows include the madcap comedies A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Midsummer Mechanicals, As You Like It and The Comedy of Errors, plus the gripping drama Macbeth.

Book Shakespeare’s Globe tickets on London Theatre.

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Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

This royal park in north London is truly majestic, as is the outdoor theatre at its heart. Regent’s Park has a generous playing space nestled among verdant trees – and you get the odd stage invasion by resident birds. It also has a magical theatre bar with twinkling fairy lights.

The shows here are just as breathtaking. In past years, revivals of musicals like Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita, and Legally Blonde have become real talking points. Musicals are back for 2023, with Once On This Island and La Cage aux Folles, along with family-friendly shows like the interactive Dinosaur World Live, The Tempest re-imagined for everyone aged six or over, Every Leaf a Hallelujah, and Robin Hood. The Legend. Re-written.

Book Regent's Park tickets on London Theatre.

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How to plan a trip to see London theatre in the summer

The sheer number of shows, among other fantastic cultural offerings, makes London an incredibly attractive travel destination. If you’re thinking of visiting London during the summer holidays, here are some practical tips on what to pack and how best to manage your stay here – including your theatre trips.

Prepare for all weather eventualities.

The one thing you can always expect with British weather is the unexpected. We sometimes have glorious summers here, but we just as often have rain. So, make sure you have sun cream and sunglasses, but also a portable, light waterproof jacket (or something like a poncho) and umbrella with you.

Always stay hydrated during your theatre trip.

Rain or shine, when it gets warm in the summer in London, the city becomes very humid – especially in the centre of town. And, as we explained above, not all theatres have air conditioning. So take a bottle of water with you wherever you go, and keep hydrating. You can get free tap water at all theatre bars if you need a top-up.

Get to know the best travel routes to your theatres.

The quickest way to get around London is via public transport – primarily buses and the Tube (or underground train). That includes getting into the West End, where you’ll find most theatres. So, check out the stations near where are you staying to plan your routes ahead of time, and always include a Plan B in case of transport delays.

Leave time to explore the city in between shows.

London is teeming with amazing historical sites and cutting-edge activities – there’s always something new to see or try. It can also be tiring travelling around town, especially if you’re doing something that requires concentration, like seeing a long play. So, ensure there is time between your activities. That way you can pace yourself or be open to stumbling upon something fun and unexpected. It might even be a last-minute ticket deal for a show.

Top image credit: Regent's Park Open Air Theatre. (Photo courtesy of theatre)

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