If you’re headed to London and there’s a specific show you want to watch, like say Book of Mormon, you’ll need to book a ticket. There are over 40 theatres in the West End, so there’s literally something for everyone – be it a musical or play. There are short runs for some shows, which last a couple of months, or ones like Wicked!, Phantom of the Opera, Lion King, or Les Miserables which run continuously. You can book online before you get to London, but if you can’t decide or you’re happy to take a bit of a lucky dip, you can visit the TKTS booth in Leicester Square. You can get half price tickets for the day you visit and the following two days from a heap of shows (except the really big new ones).
The Mousetrap at St Martin’s Theatre
This Agatha Christie play is the world’s longest running production and has been performed continuously on the West End since November 1952. Christie wrote the first version of The Mousetrap, called Three Blind Mice, as a radio play to celebrate Queen Mary’s 80th birthday. It’s been performed
over 27,000 times and a counter in the foyer tells you which production you’ll be watching.
Set in a snowed-in bed and breakfast, the play is a classic whodunit. When someone staying at the house dies, suspicion ripples through the guests and they start to realise there may be a killer among them. One of the most wonderful things about the play is that even though it’s been performed for over 65 years, the secret of who the killer is has (mostly) remained a secret (don’t look at the Wikipedia page). It’s the perfect cozy murder mystery to watch in England and even though I’m more of a musical fan, I was utterly absorbed in this from start to finish. The Mousetrap is a West End institution and worthy of the praise its received over the decades.
An American in Paris at the Dominion Theatre
Sadly since I took so long to write this post, An American in Paris is no longer playing on the West End. However, a movie of the stage production is being screened in select cinemas worldwide so you may still get a chance to experience this beautiful production. The title will be familiar as the 1951 Oscar-winning film of the same name, starring Gene Kelly. But the stage production reinvents itself with elements of the original symphony of the same name by George Gershwin (whose music was also added to the film). Set after the occupation of Paris in WWII, An American in Paris explores the blossoming love between American GI Jerry and Parisian dancer Lise.
This stage production won four Tony Awards in 2015 after debuting on Broadway and it’s easy to see why when you watch this breathtaking choreography. Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron are incredibly big shoes to fill, but Ashley Day and Leanne Cope are stunning. Be warned though, this is not the big song and dance show you may expect when you hear the word ‘musical’. It’s a much more subtle exploration of the relationship between the two leads. It also looks at the return of hope to the City of Light after the Nazi occupation, something the producers noted couldn’t be as deeply embedded in the film so soon after the war. An American in Paris was one of the most moving musicals I’ve seen and one I’d highly recommend if you appreciate stunning dance.
Matilda the Musical at the Cambridge Theatre
I’ve saved my favourite performance for last. I don’t think Matilda needs much introduction, but if you’re not familiar with the Roald Dahl classic (a childhood favourite of mine) or the 1996 movie starring Mara Wilson, Matilda is a wildly intelligent little girl stuck in an unloving, ignorant family who finds salvation in books and discovers a strange power which helps her escape. I missed the Australian version during its short run in Brisbane, so this was a must-see in London when I realised it was still playing. If you loved these version as a child, you’ll still find something new to be enthralled by as Matilda’s story unfolds on stage.
The music in Matilda is now one of my favourite production soundtracks of all time and I played it endlessly on my flight home. Written by Aussie Tim Minchin, it is the perfect mix of comedic, mischievous and catchy and fits beautifully with Roald Dahl’s own sense of humour evident throughout his books. The children were absolute superstars and I am in awe of their talent. But there were two characters who really stole the show for me: Miss Trunchbull and Mr Wormwood. They were superb and absolutely hilarious, especially Miss Trunchbull who still managed to maintain an air of terror while also delivering the best side glances or snide remarks. I absolutely must see it again, but until then I’ll keep replaying the soundtrack.
Do you have a favourite musical? What should I watch when I’m in London in July?