Theatre going in London during the 2012 Olympic Games – a personal view


A year ago, if you’d asked me what I thought the effect of the Olympics on my theater going habit was going to be, I’d have said, “Well, nothing, other than the fact that I’m planning on getting out of town for the entire two weeks!” But as we’re getting closer to the date (and, as it’s turned out, I’ve not had enough spare holiday to escape for the whole time), I’d had to realize that there has been a London effect on theater going during the Olympics, including during an extended pre-games build-up period. So I’m going to talk about that, and, LOCOG, if you think I’m going to change the title of my post because I’m not an official Olympics sponsor, you can just fuck right off.

Initially, there was some pre-games hysteria in the form of a rumor that many West end shows would go dark during the entire two week period (now only true for Sweeney Todd). This made sense to me: most theater-going in London is done by locals, and most of us were likely to try to escape town, stay home, or generally reduce our travel as much as possible during this period. (God knows TFL has been encouraging us to stay at home.) But I haven’t seen any announcements of theaters acting like it’s The Blitz anywhere, so this seems to not have come true.

A surprising side effect has been a plethora of new art in the build-up period, with the Globe-to-Globe “37 plays in 37 languages” Shakespearean event at the (shock!) Globe, a Pina Bausch celebration (she’s a choreographer for you guys who only do theater), and the “Greenwich and Docklands International Festival” (which carefully said nothing about the Games in order to keep themselves all clean with LOCOG). There was even an original staging of the movie Chariots of Fire (which felt too much to me like a calculated money grab to be very exciting) at the Hampstead Theater (which announced a transfer to the West End before it opened) and, for those of you who like film, a big project by the BFI to restore Hitchcock’s silent movies and pay for original scores to go with. Now, you can be a big Olympics hater (like me), but if you love the arts it’s hard not to get excited about these projects. In my mind it’s all part of the Jubilee and general celebration of cool stuff in England, and I’m okay with that. I mean, Hitchcock! Shakespeare! That whole music on a boat on the river thing! What’s not to love?

Well, I’ll tell you what’s not to love: the specter of total transport shutdown during the Olympics for anyone who’s trying to do anything like going about their normal routine – you know, work, home, maybe a show on the way back. But on Friday I realized the Hackney Empire – where I was planning to go see the Chinese opera The Monkey King on Sunday August 12th – is on the Overground route to Stratford, which means that getting there would be a complete nightmare. That poster of the horse on the escalator? Yeah, it would be like that, only with carriage after carriage full of people who don’t know how to ride public transportation blocking me out. I imagine the horse crapping on each step of the stair as it walks up it.

And, really, this is the fear I have for anything I can’t actually walk to from work. I’m looking at my calendar for the Olympics period and thinking: am I going to be able to get to any of it? Day one, it’s the Landor Theater for Kander & Ebb’s Curtains: since it’s on the Northern Line and south of the city, it looks safe (and frankly if I can’t there I won’t be able to get home either so I really hope this isn’t a problem). Long Day’s Journey into Night is walkable, but my friend who works in Canary Wharf may be shafted (especially given the 7 PM start time). The New Diorama Theater (with “The Rover“) is another walkable job, but can I get home from Euston? King’s Cross is supposed to be a no-man’s land. AAARGH.

As a consequence of all of this uncertainty, I’ve pretty much booked nothing for the entire period other than a five day trip to Greece. I don’t know if the theaters of London have noticed this yet or not but we’re talking probably 8-10 shows less than I would have got tickets for under normal circumstances. Rumor has it there are some good Olympic time theater deals bubbling up – ATG just put out a Best of British promotion and more may be coming soon – but I haven’t seen a flood of them yet. Keep an eye on

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5 Responses to “Theatre going in London during the 2012 Olympic Games – a personal view”

  1. Not the West End Whingers Says:

    When I went to see Torch Song Trilogy at the Menier a while back, it started at 2000hrs (making for a very late finish) and I gathered from somewhere that all new productions that were running through the Games were adopting this later start time in order that their customers got extra time to get to the theatre. Subsequently I found out that this wasnt true at all.

    NTWEW have only booked one theatre trip for the duration of the games and that is to the NT, which hopefully shouldnt be affected. But I am trying to squeeze in a visit to the Jermyn Street Theatre to see St. John’s night and, as this is right in the middle of town, wonder whether we will end up getting caught somewhere. Basically we are making sure that we are not going anywhere from which there are not at least two different ways home to the wilds of South London, just in case!

  2. skylarkingzooby Says:

    Theatre shows with late finishes are possibly a great idea as surely, SURELY, any traffic to do with the games will have ended by 7pm and any ‘Lympic tourists will only go to Leicester Square as that is the place all tourists seems to congregate regardless the event ;-).

    I tend not to book for theatre, unless it’s something I specifically want to see, or a mate is in it, as being an actor myself, I never know what my schedule is until a week before, I just tend to go on spec (or go when someone says ‘I’ve got a spare for such and such a date” so who knows.

    For the Landor, you could get the local train that runs between Victoria, Battersea Park and Clapham North to London Bridge as it’s a great quick service, though only every 30 mins.

    For Hackney Empire, you cold get a bus from Bethnal Green as it’s only 15 minutes or a 227 from Highbury or a 73 from Angel. Is 12th August the closing ceremony or is it the day before?

    • webcowgirl Says:

      The Sunday is the closing ceremony, so BIG FEAR on traveling back from this show. I really want to go, though! I guess I could bus it from Old Street?

  3. Eve Nicol (@EveNicol) Says:

    I’ve postponed my monthly Glasgow to London theatre crusade because of the ‘lumpics. I didn’t think at first it would be all that bad but June’s trip involved watching a spectacular domino fall of tourists tumble down Picadilly underground’s million feet long escalators. I don’t think my nerves could handle seeing that doubled with the crowds.

    I’ll see you again in September, London. I hope you’ve cleaned up by then.

  4. skylarkingzooby Says:

    Traffic, it seems, isn’t actually all that bad here in London. I’m slightly disturbed/amazed by the lack of crowds. Maybe because I’ve not gone to Olympic hotspots (though London Bridge, which I travel through every day is disproving every theory that BoJo has about the congested underground. Go figure…

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