Peek behind the curtain with these London shows all about backstage drama

From Shakespeare to Cole Porter, plays and musicals to comedies, these shows in the West End all give you exclusive, behind-the-scenes access.

Marianka Swain
Marianka Swain

There’s something thrilling about getting to see just how a show is made. Perhaps that’s why audiences have always loved backstage stories, going right back to that hilariously disastrous play-within-a-play in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, through to modern classics like the side-splitting comedy of Noises Off and The Play That Goes Wrong.

This year, you’ve got numerous chances to head behind the scenes and see the truth behind the glamour and magic – or discover even more drama offstage than on! London is hosting the likes of intriguing new musical Opening Night, starring Sheridan Smith, and returning favourites A Chorus Line and Kiss Me, Kate.

So get ready to root out all those backstage secrets and enjoy the show behind the show with these must-see productions about theatre.

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Opening Night, Gielgud Theatre

Tony and Olivier-winning director Ivo van Hove adapts John Cassavetes’s movie for stage, with new music by the acclaimed singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright. The psychological drama centres on a Broadway actress who has a nervous breakdown as she’s haunted by a dead fan.

Sheridan Smith stars in this West End premiere, and she has spoken about drawing on her own difficult past for the role – further blurring real life and theatre. The cast also features Hadley Fraser and Amy Lennox.

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Kiss Me Kate

Kiss Me, Kate, Barbican

Another op’nin’, another show! Cole Porter’s beloved musical comedy brilliantly uses Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew as its basis: the troupe in the show are mounting a production of it (with added songs, of course), and the backstage drama mirrors the play’s warring lovers.

Porter has fun with theatrical types – the egotistical director-manager, the diva actress, the ingenue cosying up to the director – but ultimately it’s an affectionate portrait. Stephanie J Block, Adrian Dunbar, Charlie Stemp, and Georgina Onuorah star in Bartlett Sher’s Barbican revival this summer.

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A Mirror, Trafalgar Theatre

You may not realise at first that you’re watching a backstage work, because Sam Holcroft’s ingenious play is full of deceptions and surprises. What seems like a wedding is actually a cover for a secret drama – which in turn is about the Ministry of Culture trying to force propaganda into plays.

This twisty black comedy makes vital points about censorship and how lucky we are to have artistic freedom via this entertaining, and thought-provoking, piece of theatre. The excellent cast features Jonny Lee Miller, Olivier Award nominee Tanya Reynolds, Samuel Adewunmi and Geoffrey Streatfeild.

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A Chorus Line, Sadler’s Wells

“God I hope I get it!” Those words running through the head of every auditioning dancer form the spine of Michael Bennett’s revolutionary musical, inspired by the testimonies of real hopefuls. It’s also a love letter to the chorus, without whom we wouldn’t have these glorious shows.

Each performer tells their story via wonderful Marvin Hamlisch songs like “What I Did For Love” – from the sneery acting teacher to sexual awakenings and how the dance studio could be a refuge. Adam Cooper and Carly Mercedes Dyer star in this exciting revival.

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A Midsummer Night's Dream Flabbergast

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Wilton’s Music Hall

It’s not just fairy royalty and mismatched lovers wandering the forest. Shakespeare’s uproarious comedy also features the mechanicals: an am-dram acting troupe formed of labourers. They meet to rehearse a play about the tragic deaths of Pyramus and Thisbe – but are interrupted by the magical shenanigans.

Happily, we get to see their oh-so-terrible play in full at the end of the show, as they attempt to play a lover, a maiden, a lion, a moon, and a wall. Flabbergast Theatre’s irreverent production at Wilton’s Music Hall promises to do this full justice with physical comedy, music, and masks.

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Cabaret, Kit Kat Club at the Playhouse Theatre

Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome… to the ultimate escapism. When American author Cliff arrives in Weimar Berlin, he thinks the Kit Kat Club is a paradise – but he, and we, come to realise that it’s actually a dangerous distraction from the dark forces set to take over Germany.

Rebecca Frecknall’s thrillingly immersive, Olivier-winning production is particularly effective at making you feel part of the club, both its raunchy performance and seedy backstage. The cast is currently led by Cara Delevingne, Luke Treadaway, and Michael Ahomka-Lindsay.

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The Play That Goes Wrong, Duchess Theatre

All that the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society want to do is stage their 1920s murder mystery. But it’s just not be: everything that can go wrong does go wrong, from actors forgetting their lines to injuries, prop mix-ups, and the whole set crashing down.

It’s all done with such skill by the (real!) actors that you’re left laughing helplessly – and gasping as the chaos mounts up. Mischief’s original comic hit is a West End staple for a reason, and this backstage farce is slapstick at its absolute best.

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