Guide for First Time Theatregoers

With the ever-broadening spectrum of shows opening in the West End, new audiences are flocking to experience the joy that is live theatre. More productions are designed to welcome new theatregoers of all ages, with Harry Potter and the Cursed Child proving to be record-breaking in bringing fans of the books and films to experience a live performance.

Similarly, younger audiences are being attracted by modernised productions with star actors such as Kit Harington in Doctor Faustus, Uzo Aduba in The Maids and Matthew Perry in The End of Longing. Breaking down social barriers and making theatre accessible to those of all ages and interests has been hugely important of late, with new schemes and discount tickets offered to encourage new audiences.

For those visiting the West End for the first time, it can often be daunting. Do you have to dress up? Can you sing along to Mamma Mia? Will Wicked announce your daughter’s birthday? Below we attempt to answer in detail, where we can, some FAQ’s that may help first time theatregoers.

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Your Top 8 Questions Answered

1. QUESTION: “Is there a dress code in theatres?”

ANSWER: No. Unless it is a press night or gala performance, London theatres do not have specific dress codes. This means that you do not have to wear formal attire to the theatre, but some venues may not be happy about onesies or muddy trainers! Make sure you are dressed comfortably as sitting in theatre seats can get slightly uncomfortable. Press and Gala Nights require formal attire as they are usually red carpet events.

2. QUESTION: “What’s the difference between previews, press nights and gala performances?”

ANSWER: Previews are technically formal dress rehearsals of productions, where the show is going through a trial period and things can still be changed before press night. Do not fear – these shows are usually no different from any other performance and are often sold at a cheaper price. Press nights are when theatre critics, press and bloggers are invited to watch the production and review it, and usually celebrities are invited to this performance. This is a big night and can often make or break a show! Gala performances can be charity events, press nights or simply another form of opening night if the show has had a prior run at other venues. Similarly to a press night, press and celebrities will be in attendance.

3. QUESTION: “I know all of the words to Mamma Mia! Can I sing along?”

ANSWER: No. Shows such as The Bodyguard, Mamma Mia! and Jersey Boys can attract super-fans of the music who will be itching to sing along. It is worth bearing in mind that people in the theatre have paid to see the actors perform and may not want to hear you singing along to your favourite tunes. Shows such as The Bodyguard and Mamma Mia! often give the audience an opportunity to join in with a song during the finale. Until then, it is best to not sing along as you may be asked to leave!

4. QUESTION: “Will the theatre announce my daughter’s birthday or our anniversary?”

ANSWER: No. West End productions do not announce birthdays or anniversaries during a performance. Whilst this is common in regional and amateur shows, London avoids it!

5. QUESTION: “My favourite actor is in the show! Can I arrange to meet him afterwards?”

ANSWER: Not often. Your best bet to meet your favourite star is to wait at the Stage Door for them to sign your programme and pose for pictures. During the run of The End of Longing starring Matthew Perry, the Stage Door was inundated with fans and Perry sometimes did not appear at the Door. Please be aware that actors may not always come to the Stage Door after a show. Those wanting to meet an actor should contact the theatre directly, but it is rarely granted.

6. QUESTION: “Can I have a backstage tour?”

ANSWER: No. Unfortunately theatres do not offer backstage tours directly after performances. Those who are friends with the cast or crew may be granted access at the Stage Door if it is arranged beforehand. Some theatres, including the Queen’s Theatre, offer tours as part of a package deal on tickets. It is best to contact the specific theatre.

7. QUESTION: “Why isn’t the show on every day?”

ANSWER: Most West End shows are 8 shows a week, with at least one day consisting of a matinee as well as an evening performance. Typically in London, Sunday or Monday are the non-show days, but this varies from production to production. It is best to thoroughly check dates before making a booking! Actors need a break too!

8. QUESTION: “Can my child join in?”

ANSWER: No. West End shows do not usually get children onstage as they do in pantomimes. If a show is specifically designed for children, such as The Gruffalo, The Tiger Who Came to Tea and The Railway Children, then your little ones will be encouraged to join in! Usually, children must remain in their seats for all performances. That won’t stop you from singing on the way home though!