Ultimate West End Theatre Bucket List

Got soaked at the Open Air Theatre

Sure, it's lovely having a stroll through Regent's Park on a warm summer's evening and then watching a fantastic show in the shade of the trees - but you have only truly had the London open-air experience when the heavens have opened and you've gotten soaked. At least you're not one of the stagehands trying to dry off the stage so no one twists an ankle during the next number!

Cut loose at West End live

London may not have the best weather in the world, but in spite of that we do love taking theatre outdoors - and why wouldn't you want to in the stunning Trafalgar Square, in the shadow of the National Gallery, as Lord Nelson looks on. Now we all know that West End Live garners some of the most die-hard stagey fans, so it is the perfect place to loose all inhibitions and belt out your favourite show tunes at the top of your voice.

Had a stagey coffee at the Theatre Café

If anyone ever accuses us of purely being interested in theatre, that is simply a lie. We also love coffee and cake - which is why The Theatre Café is one of our favourite West End hangouts. Great cafés are hard to find in London, but with some of the tastiest treats,  friendliest service and best range of intimate musical events, this beloved London coffee shop is a must-visit.

Got achy legs as a groundling at the Globe

The Globe is a must-see for many London visitors, but it is more than just a tourist attraction. Standing tickets not only give the truly authentic experience, but at only £5 provides some of London's cheapest theatre. In recent years, new productions such as the fist-pumpingly good Emilia have meant that more than just Shakespeare can be experienced in this incredible setting.

Watched stars of the stage without leaving your car

Coronavirus forced a long period where all West End theatres were dark and the only way you could see London's top performers live was in a car park in Tottenham. It might not quite be our favourite way of experiencing musicals, but the West End Musical Drive In is still a lot of fun and let's be honest, many West End theatres don't have the most comfortable seating anyway, so maybe being able to recline in the driver's seat is actually a bonus.

Been filled with festive cheer at the London Palladium

The yearly Christmas pantomime is one of British theatre's longest-running traditions. If you want the biggest and best, then the epic yearly panto at the London Palladium pulls out all the stops, with the glitziest West End dames and their only-just-suitable-for-children innuendoes along with whoever came second place on Britain's Got Talent doing whatever it is their talent may or may not be. But what says Christmas like a bit of camp?

Walked out of a terrible show

Now we think all theatre deserves to be given a fair chance. If you leave at the intermission, how will you ever know if there were any redeeming features in the second half and besides, often you can still get something from bad theatre - even if it is just knowledge of how not to stage a production and a greater appreciation of good theatre. That said, sometimes things are just too bad and you don't have the energy to make it through - you need to say is enough is enough and walk out and go get some ice cream in Soho instead. Je ne regrette rien.

Jumped out of your skin at The Woman In Black

As one of the West End's longest-running shows, The Woman In Black can easily be written off as a cheap tourist attraction. It is still a must-see for any theatre-lover though, with a unique approach to story telling that still holds up today and some truly jump-out-your-skin moments (often only enhanced by the coach-loads of school groups who have worked themselves up to hysterics).

Swapped pre-theatre dining for mid-theatre dining

You can't go wrong with a bargain pre-theatre offer in Soho, but if you really want to step your dinner plans up a notch, then the recent trend of immersive theatre dining experience should be tried at least once. Classic TV shows such as Fawlty Tower and Only Fools and Horses have become hugely popular with immersive productions, while murder-mystery lovers have gotten their fix with The Murder Express. Usually we'd disapprove at munching away through a show - but this is your one excuse!

Got a crick in your neck leaning around a pillar

As a theatre-lover, it is understandable you want to see a show at all costs - but sometimes the actual costs can be a bit too much (who an earth is buying the £250 tickets?!). Restricted view seats are often a great way to snap up a bargain, but I hope you've been keeping up with your yoga classes! With London's historic theatres you will often find yourself bent doubled over a safety rail, or with your head on your theatre-buddy's shoulder just to see the stage - but that's all part of the West End experience, right?

Become a 10x show superfan

Sure, there are some people who have literally seen Les Misérables over a thousand times, but we don't think that's a benchmark for being a superfan - more a sign you need to mix things up a bit. Still though, if you've managed to see a single show more than 10 times, that makes you pretty dedicated, particularly if it is one that hasn't been around long. So go on and claim your show superfan status!

Done the double with matinee and evening shows

There are times when seeing just one show isn't enough - but that's why matinees are so conveniently timed to allow you to get out, grab a bite to eat and make it in time for an evening show. With Harry Potter and the Cursed Child's two-part experience, this is becoming far more common and no longer just for the theatre-obsessed - but you'll still get that moniker if it's the same show you're heading back in for!

Been first in the day seats queue

The old adage that the early bird gets the work can definitely be true in theatre, with many shows giving the best discounted rates for people who queue in person at the box office on the day of performance. Some tickets are easier to get than others, but for the hugely popular shows you'll be having to set your alarm early to get there in time. Only the truly die-hard will have got up early enough to be the very first person in the queue, no matter how long that might mean you end up waiting.

Had a stylish dinner at Joe Allen

Joe Allen is the definitive theatre restaurant, giving a slice of New York right in the West End. With floor to ceiling show posters, a live pianist every evening and weekends and that unique Broadway buzz, it is a favourite with many West End performers and patrons alike. It may be a bit pricier than Pizza Express, yet it is a treat that is worth every penny, and the early bird set menu provides amazing pre-theatre dining that is still very affordable. Fancy a burger? Although you won't find one on the menu, it is the West End's worst-kept secret that Joe Allen's will still do you an amazing one on request.

Got lucky on a West End lottery

Many shows now provide lotteries to give massively discounted tickets to randomly selected winners, even to the most popular shows that you'll never normally get a offers on. Some like Hamilton and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child are run online or through apps, but some you'll still have to show up in person for. You'll need a degree of flexibility as often they are only run on the day or the week of performance, but they give amazing (often front row) seats at an affordable price, so you'll want to

Got a free seat upgrade from the box office

If box office managers were superheroes (and arguably they are) then their super power would be the ability to upgrade your measly Balcony restricted view seat to somewhere that you might actually be able tell which cast member of Game of Thrones had been cast in this 19th century classic. Don't expect it to happen often, but with fairly empty shows its not great for audiences or performers alike to have everyone up in the cheap seats. How to get these fabled upgrades? Well, that is impossible to know, but being polite and friendly when you collect your tickets certainly is not going to harm your chances.

Given yourself a free intermission seat upgrade

Now we don't condone buying cheap tickets just to try and sneak into more expensive seats. You may save money, but the shows are losing out if you would have otherwise bought a more expensive ticket. There is also nothing more awkward than someone who has changed seats needing to be hurriedly moved along when the original ticket holders turn up half way during the first song. That said, at an intermission after an hour or so of cricking your neck at a terrible view when its clear the row of seats next to you are never going to be occupied, its understandable if you maybe give yourself a minor upgrade.

Emptied your wallet at a merch stand

Sure, you've bought some show merchandise - who hasn't? But only  true theatre lovers will know the fanatical impulse that leads you to walk away wondering how you've managed to spend every last penny you had left on you after the lofty ticket price on an official show mug, t-shirt, hat and sports bottle (even though it's been a while since you've done any sport anyway). Or maybe if it is a Disney show, you manage to spend every last penny on a  single tiny fridge magnet.

Sung-along at a cinema screening

Sing-along film screenings of musicals are no new thing, with the Rocky Horror Picture Show and Sound of Music becoming cult classics where you belt your heart out with a packed cinema of like-minded people. The West End's Prince Charles Cinema has long been a home to many of these screenings, but now they are more frequent throughout the country - particularly with new movies like The Greatest Showman becoming smash hits. Bonus points if you come dressed in full costume.

Seen an entirely unique musical with The Showstoppers

Legendary musical theatre improv troupe The Showstoppers provide an experience like no other, taking audience suggestions on themes, styles and plot to build a completely new improvised musical each night. What results is unmissably hilarious, and it is impossible not to be wowed by the musical improvisational skills by both cast and band that manages to take improv to a whole other level.

Experienced literally underground theatre at Vault Festival

Vault Festival provides an incredible range of experimental theatre, comedy and cabaret, making it one of the UK's best loved stage festivals. Getting its name from its underground Leake Street home in Waterloo, it is a setting that makes underground theatre feel truly underground. For those who want to experience something a bit different to the usual West End staples, this is a must-do at least once.

Seen theatre by candlelight at the Sam Wanamaker

The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at Shakespeare's Globe is one of London's most beautiful and unique theatres. Based on traditional indoor theatres of the past, it is constructed from wood panelling and lit purely by candlelight (we're sure they have solid fire safety measures though!), making it feel like you are truly stepping back in time when you see a play there. Theatre dates don't get much better than this.

Got lost in the shelves at a theatre bookshop

For many, theatre doesn't just have to be experienced through performance, with playtexts and books being a perfect way to access or study theatre. London's best theatrical bookshops are the Samuel French Bookshop at the Royal Court, the National Theatre Bookshop and the Calder Bookshop - all providing an incredible range of niche books, as well as being perfect for gift shopping.

Seen a hip-hop musical about a US Founding Father

Some shows are good, some are not. Some may be your style and some less so. But every decade there is a musical that eclipses all others. For the 2010s it was Hamilton and it is still holding onto its mantel as the biggest musical in the world. The most-nominated musical in Tony Awards history, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and generally a staple on the Spotify streaming charts, it is hard to be a musical fan and not have seen it by this point.

Seen the longest-running play in the world

The Mousetrap holds the title as the longest running play in the world, with over 28,000 performances since it first opened in 1952. It is a show that has stood the test of time and still manages to hold its own against a lot bigger, more modern shows. We love a good murder mystery and Agatha Christie is the queen of the genre and The Mousetrap is her most legendary stage work. Just please, if you do see it, keep the ending secret!

Seen the longest-running West End musical

For many musical theatre fans, Les Misérables is the granddaddy of them all. Having opened in 1985, it has since been a staple of London theatre, continuing being hugely popular with tourists and regular theatregoers alike. Even with recent movie versions, nothing can beat the magic of seeing it live on stage, particularly with its epic barricade scenes, making it a must-see for all.

Been sprayed with spittle in front row seats

People often have the misconception that 'front row seats' is synonymous with 'best seats in the house'. For most West End theatres this is just not true, as generally you cannot see the rear of the stage, have to constantly crane your neck up and end up darting your head back and forth like you're watching a tennis match. That said, it is still uniquely enjoyable, giving some of the most immersive theatre viewing where you can see every minute detail and even often allowing for a new perspective as you look down into the orchestra pit.

Bought a unique stagey gift from Etsy

Although we spend a lot of money at merch stands in the theatres themselves, when you're looking for a gift for a theatrical friend, Etsy is often the best place to go, with a huge range of creative fans who have made everything from incredible paintings or cards to fun pin badges and keyrings. Since the pandemic, many people working in the stage industry have taken their talents to Etsy to help support themselves, giving an incredible range of unique gifts, while the knowledge you're doing good by supporting a local creative gives you enough excuse to buy yourself a present too!

Relived a childhood Disney classic at the Lion King

It is hard to think of musicals without thinking of Disney, and the West End versions of childhood classics have not failed to disappointed. Arguably the best Disney film of all time, The Lion King, is Disney's longest running West End musical and with good reason. Julie Taymor's production manages to keep all the original magic, while bringing a new theatricality to it with its brilliant use of puppetry and dance, making it an unmissable show.

Felt all fancy seeing a show from a private box

It is a big misconception that boxes offer the best views in the house. Often being very side-on to the stage in many theatres, you may miss big chunks of the action or at very least be quite uncomfortable leaning forward to get a good view. That said, there is something a bit magical about having a box all to yourself and can make it a perfect date or trip with your family, so we think everyone should do it at least once.

Performed a big West End number at karaoke

You may have once harboured dreams of making it big on Broadway, but even if that might never come true, you can still pretend it is at your local Lucky Voice or Karaoke Box. So queue up your favourite West End belter and subject all your friends to your best attempt and keep your fingers crossed that they're still your friends afterwards.

Seen the Queen of Broadway perform live

It's hard to be satisfied with your stagey bucket list unless you've seen at least a few of the very biggest stars at least once. And they don't come much bigger than Broadway legend Patti LuPone. Many will have jumped across the pond to get a chance to see her live, but with the recent revival of Company, a lot more West End theatregoers managed to see her for the first time.

Watched live theatre from the comfort of your home

Live performance is fundamental to great theatre, however with the birth of initiatives like National Theatre Live, we've been given the opportunity to enjoy more theatre in more places, more of the time. Sure, it may not be quite the same, but you can't be at the theatre every day, so it is only a good thing which manages to make many shows more accessible. Bonus points if you printed fake tickets, sold tiny ice creams in the intermission and shushed a companion because, despite being at home, talking still isn't allowed during a performance.

Watched some fringe comedy in a purple cow

The Underbelly Festival has now become a yearly staple, giving a taste of the Fringe each summer on the Southbank. With a wide range of cabaret, dance, theatre, kids shows and comedy, there really is something for everyone and it is a great chance to see amazing shows that might never quite be big enough for a West End stage. The unique setting means you can enjoy a drink on the astroturf or a stroll down the Southbank in the sun between shows in the giant purple cow tent.

Read a play from start to finish

Nothing beats live performance, but reading playtexts can be a uniquely exciting experience. It gives you access to basically anything from the history of the West End, even if it hasn't been on in years and reading the text itself gives you the opportunity to imagine your own production in your mind, particularly fun if you have never seen a play before and have no preconceptions. You'll also get an appreciation of no other for the nuances of dialogue and structure that otherwise can easily be missed or taken for granted on stage. Be warned though - you can't tick this off if it is some Shakespeare you were forced to read in class at school.

Bought a tiny over-priced ice cream at intermission

We will never quite understand why tiny tubs of ice cream with their awkward wooden spoons have become a staple of West End theatre. Half of the time it is sub-zero temperatures outside and we've tried to dress a bit nicer than usual, so would prefer to not risk the drips. Still though, every now and then you just have to say ice cream is great, and theatre is great, and I am great, so I deserve a treat even if it is a rip-off.

Took in the view from the stage

Many of you may have dreamt of being a major West End star. Even if that didn't happen, stepping out on a West End stage is still a must at least once. Maybe you made it to be a swing in a small short-run production, maybe you're a member of the stage crew shifting props, maybe you were pulled up to dance during a musical encore or maybe you just saw a production that utilised on-stage seating. Whatever it may be, seeing an actor's-eye-view of a full West End theatre is certainly a must.

Took a look behind the curtain with a backstage tour

From the huge traditional West End venues such as Theatre Royal Drury Lane or The Royal Opera House, to the more modern public theatres of the National or Barbican, many theatres run fantastic backstage tours which give you a unique insight into the history and architecture of the building as well as giving you a glimpse of how things work backstage. Generally costing between £10-£15 they're well worth it for a slightly different way to spend an afternoon.

Marvelled at how its all done at a magic show

We love musicals. And we love plays. But there is more on offer on the London stage than just that. Magic shows may not be up everyone's street, but often when people look down on them it is because they've never seen one up to the standards that you get in the West End. From the epic big-scale performances of The Illusionists, to the mind-bending mentalism of Derren Brown, it is something you should try at least once and who knows, maybe you'll get picked to go up on stage for a trick.

Hung your head in shame as you snuck in a show late

We're not saying this is something you should do, but it is something that if you're a regular theatre-goer will end up happening to you. No matter how well you plan trains, leave enough time to arrive early and make sure you know exactly where the venue is, one day something unexpected will hold you up and you will burst into the foyer to find out the show has started without you and you're going to have to be one of those people that the usher's have to hustle to their seats after the first song, much to the annoyance of those who have been there for ages, who you try not to sit on as you shuffle past to your seat.

Stepped back in time at Wilton's Music Hall

Wilton's Music Hall is a beautiful slice of the past, with its three sided gallery, cast iron pillars and ornate faded décor. Although now it is more than just a music hall and puts on a wide arrange of shows and productions, many are still rooted in London theatre traditions, giving a truly exciting and atmospheric experience that is very different to the standard West End fare.

Seen hits performed on a grand scale at the Royal Albert Hall

From Magic at the Musicals to The Best of the West End or Disney's Broadway Hits to one of the many live orchestra accompanied film screenings, each year the Royal Albert Hall puts on a range of performances that are perfect for musical lovers who want to experience something different. With the huge orchestra, one of the most impressive London venues and many West End stars doing the classics, what's not to love?

Graced the red carpet at an awards show

If seeing as many of your West End heroes as possible is appealing, then the easiest way to do this is by attending one of London's big awards shows. Awards such as the Olivier Awards and the WhatsOnStage Awards are held in big venues with some public tickets available, making them not only great places to spot the stars and watch some weepy acceptance speeches, but generally see some fantastic live performances too.

Been dazzled by the English National Ballet at the Coliseum

Ballet may not be many people's favourite type of live performance, but the English National Ballet are some of the world's finest and in the stunning setting of the London Coliseum, it makes for a breath-taking evening that needs to be experienced once. The sheer technical ability alone is enough to keep you entertained all night and who knows, maybe you'll become a ballet convert.

Become a West End Centurion and seen 100 shows

You may love theatre but seeing 100 shows is no easy feat. Even with day seats and last minute deals it will cost you thousands of pounds, let alone finding the time to fit them all in. That said though, given time many of you will find yourself slowly creep up to this number and when you do, you can take the title of West End Centurion.

Saw the very first preview of a brand new show

There is nothing more exciting than seeing a brand new show. You never know whether it is going to be a future smash hit or a big flop. Either way, if you're attending the very first preview, you know that you are in the first audience who will ever see this and be the first to make up their minds, free of prejudice from critic reviews and social media buzz. Not only that, if it does become a smash hit, you can guarantee this is the cheapest ticket you'll ever be able to get for it.