Theatre staff spend an impressive amount of time ensuring you don’t see the revealing joins, but a number of London theatres offer inexpensive and fascinating peeks backstage to unveil all the talent, tricks, technology that occurs behind your favourite West End shows. Take a trip behind the curtain and see how your favourite stage shows are brought to life with our selection of backstage London theatre tours, it’s the perfect treat for mum this Mother’s Day.
The National Theatre
Head to the National in Southbank for a showstopping backstage tour of this publicly funded theatre embraced by some of the finest actors and directors of the past 35 years. The three unique theatre spaces are built to host a huge variety of productions, from the small and adaptable Cottesloe Theatre through the wide-staged Lyttelton Theatre to the expansive Olivier Theatre, boasting well over 1000 seats and currently attracting ambitious dramas and state-of-the-nation plays. Knowledgeable and enthusiastic guides ensure you get accurate info on the exhaustive creative work that goes into the acclaimed productions. Rehearsals, costumes, set-building and more – unearth all the tricks of the trade and gain new insight into the dynamic, unseen work. With 20 new productions every year, there’s always sure to be something exceptional going on behind the scenes at the National.
Theatre Royal Drury Lane
Enjoy a thespian touch on your theatre tour at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, where an enthralling experience awaits visitors young and old. Professional actors take you on a dramatised journey through the theatre’s illustrious past, delighting with their vibrant characters while informing with their unmatched knowledge. Actors become Richard Sheridan, the theatre’s 17th century owner, Joseph Grimaldi who invented the modern clown, and renowned Restoration actress Nell Gwynne on this enchanting one-hour tour running twice daily from Monday to Saturday. Other characters and historical favourites pop up too, giving the theatre’s 300-year story a real vitality as you learn how the exquisite Theatre Royal came to be.
The expansive London Palladium has played host to the most Royal Variety Performances of all London’s theatres and boasts an astonishing 100-year history which has seen sterling performances from actors such as Yul Brynner, Julie Andrews, Elaine Page, Bing Crosby, Judy Garland, the Two Ronnies and many more. Take a generous backstage tour of the world’s ‘Ace Variety Theatre’ and feast your eyes on the spectacular interior, complete with 2,300 seats, regal decor and singularly wide auditorium. Memorabilia throughout the theatre shows off its impressive heritage and celebrates the array of stars that have graced its stage. The 90-minute tour offers plenty of scope to experience every stunning facet and runs at 11:30am on the second Friday of each month.
Royal Opera House
Since 1858 the Royal Opera House has enthralled theatre goers with its rich character, extraordinary architecture and astonishing patterned ceiling. Learn about the colourful history of one of the nation’s favourite theatres, the third to be built on this Covent Garden site after the first two burnt to the ground in pre-electricity days. The Velvet, Gilt and Glamour tour often begins at the auditorium’s awe-inspiring peak, while the classic Backstage tour offers an exclusive insight into current productions and the innovative backstage technology now in use; scenery for the main stage is transported via a Rolls Royce wagon system, in-built into the floor and able to move 10 tonnes per wagon. Both memorable tours are offered on selected days every week.
Hear tales of William Shakespeare’s workplace in Elizabethan London with this daily exhibition and tour on the New Globe Walk. Discover the makeup of an Elizabethan audience, uncover theatre rivalries of yore and receive a guided tour of the Globe Theatre or iconic ‘Wooden O’, lavishly reconstructed in its Jacobean glory using extensive research to create the most faithful replica possible. An authentically timber-framed building, the theatre boasts benches and the famous pit where a further 700 spectators (or ‘penny stinkers’) stand to watch each performance. Fans of the bard and newcomers to his work will eat up this painstaking recreation of the remarkable theatre and all the history that goes with it.
For seasoned Shakespeare connoisseurs who have already visited the Globe, Declan McHugh’s Shakespeare City Walk runs on Fridays at 11am from Temple underground station, delving into little-known London landmarks with Shakespearean associations.