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American Tourism in London's West End - Q&A
With the summer months just around the corner, spring is the time that many tourists plan their trip to London and are looking to enjoy some of the capital's most exciting theatre. American tourists are particularly interested in visiting London, often as part of a longer trip to Europe or Ireland. Whilst London isn't too dissimilar from big US cities such as Chicago, Boston or New York, there are many differences between the theatre culture that sometimes worries American visitors.
To combat this, we teamed up with popular blog Girl Gone London, an American girl's guide to life and travel in the UK and beyond. Written by an American ex-pat who moved to London to live, study and work abroad, we collaborated to find out and answer some of the most frequently asked questions from American tourists coming to London in relation to their theatregoing experience. Girl Gone London provides the questions and London Theatre provides the answers...
1. Is there a dress code to attend the theatre?
If you're able to return to your hotel/apartment before heading to the theatre, it's always nice to get spruced up and make an occasion of theatregoing – treat it like a night out. Smart/casual is the preferred choice by many audiences, although don't worry if you're coming straight from a full day of sight-seeing or shopping – jeans and T-shirts are certainly acceptable. Whatever you do, please bear in mind that you're spending around 2 ½ hours with fellow human beings, so be aware of personal hygiene to make your experience as pleasant as possible for everyone...
2. Should I plan my tickets in advance or buy them when I get to London?
Buying tickets ahead of time will certainly save you time once in London and will help you create a schedule to build the rest of your trip around. That said, some of the best trips happen spontaneously, and plans can often change. If you don't necessarily mind what you see when you're in London, you can book tickets when you are here – often directly from the venues themselves, or from many of the shops around Leicester Square in person. Beware of scalpers and never buy a ticket from someone on the street – you could find that the ticket is a fake, and you won't be able to get a refund. London Theatre is a STAR regulated ticket seller, meaning it is part of the Society of Ticket Agents and Regulators, so you can buy with confidence. Pick up one of the Trade papers such as The Stage for reviews of productions that might interest you, and don't be afraid to go a little off the beaten track.
3. What are 'Fringe' venues and are they worth going to?
Make sure you look at our Fringe Venues page to discover a selection of performance spaces that you may not have heard of before. Often the Fringe is where landmark productions begin their life before transferring to bigger West End houses. Broadway hits such as 'Jerusalem' and 'King Charles III' began at smaller fringe venues – so why not take a chance and you may just find yourself being amongst the first to see the next Tony Award-winning play!
4. Will I need extra money once I'm in the theatre?
Unlike in America, Playbills or Programs are not free. The price is determined by each production, and can vary from £3 - £10. Often shows will have a free cast list or sheet available, along with glossy brochures with photographs from the production. Concessions are available to buy before the show and at the interval, including alcoholic drinks that can only be taken into the auditorium in plastic glasses. Ice Cream is a traditional interval snack for audiences, and comes in small tubs with a wooden spoon.
5. Can I spend time in the theatre before or after the show?
Unlike Broadway theatres, London theatres have more room and bar space so tend to open from an hour before the show begins. You can have a drink, read the programme and talk to friends before moving to the auditorium to take your seats. On the whole, it's a lot less stressful than in New York and the experience is generally more pleasant.
6. What am I allowed to bring with me into the theatre?
Bag searches are often in operation at theatres and certain items such as external food or drink are usually not allowed. Small bottles of water are usually fine. Larger coats and bags need to be checked into the cloakroom, which can sometimes charge per item.
7. How much interaction is there with the performers?
Applause is obviously encouraged – although entrance applause for performers is something that's not regularly done unless the star happens to be American. Standing ovations, whilst once reserved for only the finest performances, now occur regularly as productions often encourage standing throughout the final bows with an uplifting finale.
8. Do all of the venues have long lines for the bathrooms?
As many of the venues are Victorian in size and design, toilets are notoriously small and long lines are established for the Ladies in particular as soon as the interval has commenced.
Some London Theatre terms explained:
Programme : Playbill
Stalls: Orchestra Stalls
Dress Circle: Mezzanine
Upper Circle: Balcony
Cloakroom: Coat Check
Traverse: Avenue staging
In the Round: Arena staging
Gods: Gallery or highest point of venue
Standing Room: SRO
Thanks to Girl Gone London for providing the questions. You can visit the blog about life in the UK as an American ex-pat by clicking here.