Posts Tagged ‘Noel Coward Theatre’

Review – Shakespeare in Love – Noel Coward Theater

July 18, 2014

It’s hard to figure out how to properly review a play that’s about a movie that’s about a play. On one hand, well, Romeo and Juliet, you’re probably familiar with that; God knows several movies have been done on the theme (if not so much on the play) and God knows there have been spin-offs in other areas as well. But what is Shakespeare in Love (“the play”), really? Should the acting be judged by the standards I’d hold for Shakespeare? Or should I really be looking at it as an (urgh) adaptation of a movie and thus hold it to the much lower standards of a thrice removed adaptation based upon a blandly populist form of entertainment that, to be honest, is what this play, at its heart, is: simply an attempt to shake some shekels out of the indiscriminate theater goer?
But, to my great surprise, the commercial enterprise that is Shakespeare In Love (“the play”) has actually succeeded in creating a very enjoyable play. I’m not talking great art here: the loose treatment of history and historical ways of speaking is all too painfully on display. But honestly, if you are choosing to see this play, you still have the option of seeing Shakespeare fifteen more times in any given month (not just at the Globe but at the other 5 theaters currently doing Richard II, Richard III, Midsummer, etc.), and of seeing shows that put their high historical research front and center (RSC’s Hilary Mantel double header, yo) and, you know what? I’ve had enough Shakespeare for this entire year, and even Wolf Hall had dialogue that I’m sure was a far cry from Tudor England reality.
The plot varies not at all from the movie, as I recall (I saw it when it was new), and it is as follows: Shakespeare has writer’s block (possibly because of his loveless marriage); a young noblewoman who loves his works (she’s seen them performed for the Queen) decides to sneak into an audition as a man; as she’s a total Shakespeare fan she of course gets ;the job; Shakespeare falls in love with her (as a woman); suddenly he can write again (“the quill is full of ink” har har); the various tribulations they experience become, bit by bit, the major scenes of Romeo and Juliet – the balcony, the morning after, the utter heartbreak at separation.
In some ways, when it comes down to it, Shakespeare in Love is a play meant for Shakespeare fandom – people who know his works well enough to get all of the little throwaway lines from the non-R&J plays that are in this one and who find a storyline that is an imagining of how R&J came to be something worth two hundred minutes and fifty quid. Once I let go of “what things were REALLY like in those days” (no noblewoman woman would really think of sneaking off to be an actress) I realized I had a play that played with Shakespeare and his tropes – switched genders, hidden identities, thwarted love – in all sorts of fun ways. And it didn’t feel like a watered down movie – it was strongly theatrical, with a very basic set that could be a playhouse, the interior of a noble house, a bar, a bedchamber, et cetera but which also allowed us to believe we were at a fireworks viewing or floating down the Thames without the necessity of flying in a helicopter to help us suspend our disbelief.
This is all helped, of course, by the genuinely enthusiastic (and in no way amateurish) performances of our leads – both as themselves and when they perform Romeo and Juliet – and the strong supporting cast, who might be hamming it up but, well, I give them some leeway as with twenty actors you’ve got to put a lot of energy out there to shine. In fact, the general levels of “on” ness of the cast makes me think that what I was seeing was the kinds of performances that actors give when they feel really confident in their material and in the success of the show. They needed to play to the balconies because, well, the whole damned house was full, and is likely to be full for the extent of the run. And, as an early music buff, I’d like to applaud the music director for giving us both correct period instruments and some lovely countertenor singing, which I found nicely enhanced the mood (and which I realize could have been skipped with most people never knowing the difference – but it was well done and seemed like a little gift amongst all of the period incorrect dialogue).

So, burn out as I am, I found myself quite surprised at how much I enjoyed Shakespeare in Love, both as someone whose too, too solid heart needed melting and as a person who does, honestly, enjoy a good night’s entertainment – this was a fine show and many thanks to Official London Theatre for sponsoring this blogger’s attendance.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Wednesday, July 16, 2014. It is booking through October 25th.)

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Review – Jude Law’s Henry V – Michael Grandage Company at the Noel Coward Theatre

November 27, 2013

For fans of the long winter’s nap, I give to you the final show in Michael Grandage’s first London season, the “Jude Law Henry the Fifth,” just in time for Christmas. We’ve had a surfeit of Henrys in the last few years, but I suppose for someone who’s feeling a little inadequate about their standing in the public affections or their hairline, it must be an irresistible role. And for Grandage, we have another coup: a popular and populist play (hitting many of the old English jingoes) staffed by a movie actor not only well known but of proven mettle (he did hold down Hamlet not so long ago and thus nicely pips James Earl Jones’s Much Ado). So we’re guaranteed another series of sell-out houses and thus very likely another season of Michael Grandage produced plays, about which more presently.

But first, back to the play. Admittedly sitting in the back half of the stalls, underneath the oppressive ceiling, with the whole set looking a bit like panoramic television and my knees tucked to the side to avoid hitting the seats in front of me, I wasn’t really at my best for physically enjoying this play. But as we went through one war preparation after another and the tedious Hotspur scenes, I couldn’t help but feeling something was missing. Were the actors flat? They certainly knew their lines well enough. Was there too much play in total? It was cut down to finish up at about 10 PM, so … just what was it really that made me want to punch the air and say “Yes!” when the Dauphin said, “What a long night this is!” There was just no spark, no energy, and that’s fatal to this play and dishonest to the script. I’ve seen it done in a bunker space where the fear of war had me feeling edgy and nervous, and as a sporting match that had me cheering and laughing, but this version, dry and nerveless, has no reason to exist other than putting butts in seats. It was especially telling that of the three, count them, three women I brought with me, all of whom were excited about seeing Jude Law on stage, two of them left at the interval (both had nodded off) and the third only stayed when bribed with ice cream.

The positive side of this is that the tickets were still only 10 quid each so nobody felt like their money was wasted. But I have to have a word now with Mr Grandage about his overall season.

Dear Michael,
Of the five shows (I saw them all, I stayed all the way through the lot), only one of them was actually worth seeing: Cripple of Inishmaan. I am angry at the amount of effort and energy that has been put forth in delivering bland works to audiences in whom you appear to have little trust. Sure, a celebrity cast Shakespeare is a profit turner, but we had two of those, and the one original play done as a part of this season came off as a painful vanity project driven more by the need to showcase two very brilliant stars rather than to create a good work of theater.

I don’t regret the fifty quid I spent to get my season’s worth of tickets, and I thank you, Mr Grandage, for your effort to make theater affordable to the average Londoner. But next year, you should do MORE new works, fresher plays, and less boring old warhorses. Brilliant actors are wasted on tripe. Next year, I say seven shows: two modern, two new, one war horse, and two mini-seasons (two or three weeks each) for two really new shows that would benefit from a higher profile – things you’d normally see at the Royal Court, like Constellations and The River. We’ve got the most intelligent, best educated theater audience in the world here in London, and we deserve better. Michael Grandage, I want you to step up to the plate, step away from the trough, and really make your next year’s season the golden star it should have been in the West End’s night sky. There is no excuse for the flabby decisions you made this year.

All the best, Webcowgirl.

(This review is for for a performance that took place on Tuesday November 26, 2013.)

Review – Midsummer Night’s Dream – Michael Grandage Company at Noel Coward Theater

September 12, 2013

After a Fram-tastic night at the Old Vic’s Much Ado, I have to say I was feeling a little bit nervous about a second night of Shakespeare in a row. To make it worse, I’d just seen an outstanding Midsummer at the Tooting Arts Club – and I’ve been finding the Michael Grandage Company’s season generally pretty weak. So: their latest is A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Should I go? Well, it is being done with the most excellent Sheridan Smith, and it was only ten quid for the seats I bought back in, oh, September or something last year. (FYI: Royal Circle H14 – H17, simply an outstanding view, wish I had booked for the whole season in those seats!)

And … hey, it was good! The set was lovely and fairly simple, sliding glass door/window things kind of like a ruined great house, with people in 30s-ish garb … and then suddenly the house flies away and we’re in a room with a big hole bombed out of the wall and a gigantic moon (three stories, I think!) looming over the back … the fairy wood in which most of the play would take place. The front still looked like an abandoned manor, with a spiral staircase going upstairs (to Titania’s bower) and a few chairs scattered about. It was a model of simplicity.

The acting, meanwhile, was basically what the show calls for – a dignified Hippolyta (Sheridan Smith) and Theseus, buffoonish “rude mechanicals,” silly young lovers. The fairies were done as hippies, complete with pot smoking and a sheet of acid for the “love flower;” Smith made a fetching, Janis Joplin-styled Titania, while her Oberon, with his long coat and bare chest, was six different shades of sexy. The very tall (next to Smith) David Walliams plays Bottom, and while physically he was very good for the character, I find he was a bit too much of a ham for my taste (although if a lot of the audience were actually there to see him they probably wouldn’t complain).

The show was done quite well, but in the end, I found the scenes with the lovers not as funny as they had been with the Tooting Arts Club, and I was ready to leave before Pyramus and Thisbe had finished – it’s meant to be bad, but even knowing this it wore out its welcome. Still, for ten pounds it was very enjoyable not to mention positively refreshing after the previous night’s fiasco.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, September 10th, 2013.)

Mini-review – Hay Fever – Noel Coward Theater

April 27, 2012

Noel Coward at the Noel Coward … and for £10? The opportunity seemed to great to turn down, even though early comments from the blogosphere about Hay Fever had not been very encouraging. But I couldn’t be turned away by people saying that the version X and so did before I moved to London was so great – I’d never seen it before so I didn’t have the memories of a previous outstanding production to corrupt my experience. And Noel Coward is a very good playwright. So who cares if it’s not the best production of all time – I just wanted some laughs.

While this production did have some very odd slowness in the first act, I was enjoyed watching the bizarre characters, all of whom seemed like they’d stepped out of a Nancy Mitford novel – accents posh to high heaven but the accoutrements of an education – good manners – completely lacking. The two fancy talking but crass acting adult children were little stones in the ring created by their self-centered actress mother (Lindsay Duncan) and distracted writer father. All of them seemed dissatisfied with life and disgusted with each other, but it meant the set-up for the four guests – each of whom seemed guaranteed to be hated by at least one of the family members – was going to lead to some serious comedy in the second act.

As promised, everything went to hell in a handbasket in act two, first with a strange charade-like game that most of the guests were either two stupid or too inhibited to play, then when the family members (led by mom) basically turned on the guests. The mind games were astounding and figuring out how much was planned and how much was just the casual way a really tight family would react to people who just didn’t do things their way was fun for me; I found it all seeemd very natural in the end.

The performance seemed really over the top, except for Olivia Colman as the luscious Myra (invited by dad, enemy of mom), who seemed to absolutely get what her role was about. Daughter Sorel – Phoebe Waller-Bridge – moved with the grace of a six week old puppy but with the pushiness of an adult horse, not really believable but fun to watch. And the rest of the cast seemed like a bunch of pros who were doing a show but without the giddy enthusiasm that might have really made this show sing. However, it all made me laugh, and it was absolutely worth what I paid for it – all in all a lovely night out.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, April 24th, 2012. Hay Fever runs through June 2nd.)

Spoiler-free Review – Deathtrap – Noel Coward Theater (2010)

August 24, 2010

So. Deathtrap, like Mousetrap, is a play where you need to hide the ending from any readers/potential audience member (assuming they haven’t seen the film) in order to ensure they have a good time – if there is a good time to be had.

What a tricky position to be in, to figure out how to criticize a play in which most of what you say has to circle around giving away any of the key plot points! Is there really any point in reviewing a show under this kind of constraint? How honest can I be? Does it take away the whole point of writing the review?

As it turns out, in this case I had a very good evening, so I’m willing to play along with Ira Levin’s little game and keep the secret(s). What does that let me say, though? First, make sure you get a seat at row G or further back – in fact, you may just want to go for one of the balcony seats altogether. Second … hmm … if I say Deathtrap is a murder/mystery/thriller, does that tell you enough? I mean, there’s going to be a murder, you know that, right? I mean, with a title like “Deathtrap,” that’s pretty obvious, isn’t it?

So: five characters in a late 70s setting. Simon Russell Beale (playing, er, a writer, but mostly he seemed to be Simon Russell Beale, not Sydney); his plucky, kooky, wife Myra (Claire Skinner, about 15 years too young for the role but somehow managing to look well over 45 anyway); a hunky young dude who seemed utterly insincere all the way through the play but made up for it by, um, being hunky (Jonathan Groff as Clifford, a younger writer); Helga the wacky Swedish psychic (the venerable Estelle Parsons, total scene stealer, she was); and straight man and Sydney’s lawyer, Porter (Terry Beaver).

For many people, the cast list alone would be enough, but I’m a burnout and I still demand a good show no matter what name player is on stage. And by golly Deathtrap delivers the goods. It is scary, it is funny, and it is so self aware of the fact it’s a play that it makes it even easier to suspend your disbelief and really get behind the totally outrageous action (and plot). I really did not expect almost anything that happened in the show, as it was so cleverly written that it outsmarted the audience by predicting its own reveals (as much of the play is about writing a play) and then going down a completely different path. Still, it’s not so frightening that I couldn’t handle it (I’m a bit of a pansy); the artifice of it all puts enough separation between you as audience and the action on stage that you don’t have to be grossed out, you can just have a good laugh. Except for … well, Simon Russell Beale making out with someone from 10 feet away, he’s really just a bit old for that kind of passionate display, but this will probably be some people’s favorite part of the show.

Anyway, this is an utterly professional, well polished production of the sort I think London does very well, and I expect audiences will be packing the house of the Noel Coward for the length of the run. Though it’s a show made to appeal to audiences rather than push them into new places, how can I fault it for doing what it says on the tin? You will have a good time, and you can thank me for keeping the secrets under my sombrero. I may be a critic (of sorts) but I do want YOU to have a good time, too.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Monday, August 23rd, 2010. For another point of view, see the West End Whingers, whom I don’t think engage in spoilery activity despite warning of same. Deathtrap runs through January 22nd, 2011. I’d say it would be a real palate cleanser during panto season; you may want to wait until then to see it if you don’t manage to sneak in a cheap visit during previews, which end September 16th. And for God’s sake if you’ve come a-visiting, please go see this and not that stale old Mousetrap; so much better to run out of the theater laughing and with your heart pounding because you’ve just had so much fun and not because of an angry sense of just having wasted your evening.)

Best (Top Ten +) cheap restaurants in London’s West End Theatre-land

March 2, 2009

Going to the theater twice a week can really leave a hole in your budget, even if, like me, you dial down your costs by sticking to nose-bleed seats and £10 shows at the National. Add to this the cost of meals out, and WHOOSH! There goes your budget!

However, I make penny pinching into a sport, and keeping down food costs is a big deal to me. After four years of London theater watching, I’ve got several restaurants* I make regular visits to on show nights. This is my overview of the best cheap eats to be found in London’s theater-land, from Covent Garden, Leicester Square, and Shaftesbury Avenue, to the South Bank, and all the way out to Islington, Hammersmith, and Dalston – and a real and genuine summary of the places I go to have a pre-show dinner over and over again.

All times included are walking distances, based on a brisk Londoner-style walk from the front door of the restaurant to the front door of the theater. Allow additional time if you haven’t picked up your tickets, need to go up three flights of stairs to get to your seats, and of COURSE if you are having a hard time getting the waiter to give you your bill!

Theater Neighborhoods & Best Cheap Restaurants (click neighborhood for details)
Covent Garden (Royal Opera House, London Coliseum, Theatre Royal Drury Lane, Noel Coward Theatre etc): Battersea Pie Station, Pepe Italian Street Food, Lupita, Chando’s Opera Room (drinks only), Gelatorino (dessert)
Leicester Square/Shaftesbury Avenue (Wyndhams, London Hippodrome, Lyric, Apollo, Gielgud, Queen’s, etc. – I consider this the “West End” proper, more theatres than I can type): choose from nearby options, or Taro, the Baozi Inn or Flatiron (see below).
South “West End” (Theatre Royal Haymarket, Criterion, Comedy Theatre, Her Majesty’s Theatre): Assaggetti (corporate but quick and reasonably priced); Flatiron Steak House (DEELISH but must be there at 6).
North-“West End” and Soho Square (Dominion, Shaftesbury, Soho Theatre, Palladium): Enrique Tomas ham emporium, Thai Cottage, Pitt Cue Co, Inamo, Icco Pizza
Southbank and Waterloo, a.k.a. the Deep South “West End” (National Theatre, Old Vic, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Young Vic, Southwark Playhouse): Culture Grub, Waterloo or Southbank Wahaca, Mar Y Tierra
Sloane Square i.e. the Southwest “West End” (Royal Court, Cadogan Hall): La Bottega
Islington i.e. the slightly east West End (Sadler’s Wells, Almeida): Masala Zone, Oregano Pizzeria, Banana Tree Canteen, Tenshi Japanese Restaurant and Sushi Bar
Hammersmith, a.k.a. the Way-out West End (Lyric Hammersmith, Hammersmith Apollo): Akash Tandoor
The Barbican, a.k.a. the slightly East West End (Barbican Theater, Guildhall Music School, Silk Street Theatre): Amico Bio (at Barbican station), Grab Thai food (near Old Street station)
Hackney and Dalston a.k.a. the Far-east West End (Hackney Empire, Arcola): 19 Numara Bos Cirrik
Southeast West End Docklands/Wapping/South End (Wilton’s Music Hall): “Bon Appetit” Lebanese restaurant (133 Leman Street, really very close and in a neighborhood that’s a bit of a wasteland)
Far-northern West End (Tricycle): Small & Beautiful
Far-southern East End (aka Greenwich) (Greenwich Theatre): Goddards at Greenwich
Far-southern off West End (Landor): Alba Pizzeria

Covent Garden (east West End, including the Noel Coward, Duke of Yorks, Royal Opera House and London Coliseum – 5 minutes, Theatre Royal Drury Lane – 8 minutes, Aldwych and Novello – 10 minutes): new to the fold and close to my heart is Pepe Italian street food, across the street from the Noel Coward and in spitting distance of the London Coliseum (and the Duke of York’s). It’s got some of the best pizza in London, and while £4 a slice seems steep, it’s so damned good (and a meal with a side salad, about £2.50) that I don’t care. In addition they have these crazy sandwiches called piadina (£5.50 ish) made with an ultra puffy, tortilla like bread that just becomes heaven with melted mozzarella inside. I’m drooling just thinking about it. Bonus: everything served in 2-5 minutes – if you arrive at Leicester Square Tube at 7 for a 7:30 show, you’re safe.

Your best option if you want to eat right in Covent Garden is the Battersea Pie Station, in the basement of Covent Garden. Why? Imagine this: you have about 15 minutes to eat before you go to your show (say, for example, Shrek the Musical at Theatre Royal Drury Lane, 10 minute walk) but don’t want a cold sandwich. If there’s no line, you can order a small pie and mash (with gravy) for 5.25 and be eating a nice hot meal in 5 minutes. I kid you not. They have veggie as well as meat options, and while I don’t want pie all the time, if you’re looking for a pleasant hot meal you just can’t beat this place for price and speed.

A favorite from 2011 is Mexican food hole-in-the-wall Lupita (13 Villiers Street, WC2N 6ND, Villiers Street exit from Charing Cross Station, London Coliseum, Noel Coward and Duke of York Theatres – 8 minutes, ROH – 12 minutes), which has totally eclipsed overpopular and loud Wahaca despite the lack of mole (a kind of Mexican curry sauce). Lupita is real Mexican style and not TexMex, with tiny flat tacos, fresh guacamole, burritos and tortas (Mexican sandwiches). One burrito or two of the small plates (tacos, tostadas, quesadillas – please eat with your hands and don’t embarrass yourself), and for about £10 you are out the door. Personal favorites: queso fundido with chorizo (God’s gift to my tummy) and quesadilla with squash blossoms (it’s just super tasty and weird, I love it!). Arrive at 6 and your dinner is secure, and you’ll even have time for a margarita – but only one: any more is NOT a good plan when you’ve got a night of opera ahead of you.

A former favorites, though still good if you haven’t eaten there weekly for a few years, is the Bedford Street Paul. Though this is a chain, the lovely French meals available in this sit-down location are well priced and tasty, the atmosphere pleasant, and service is generally fast. The bread is the best I have found in London and makes the meal extra-yummy. A friend of mine usually gets the soup of the day and then splurges on a dessert, which isn’t a bad plan. They suffer from long lines around 6:30, but even at 6:45 you may be able to eat, get out at 7:20, and make your show at the ROH provided you jog across the market and bullet your way up the stairs at the Opera House. God knows I’ve done it many times!

While I won’t recommend pubs for dinner, Chando’s Opera Room (29 St. Martins Lane, WC2N 4ER) is my preferred location for a cheap pint in the neighborhood. Since they’re a Sam Smith pub, they have the delicious Sam Smith cider on tap. If you’re going for “bringing your own,” this is a great place to have a drink to wash it down with – or wait for people before you to go a show together. (Note: be sure to go upstairs as this is where the action is. It’s a gorgeous pub with lots of windows. I love it!)

Finally, if you just want a fast, filling delicious scoop of ice cream, Gelatorino opened in May 2011 at 2 Russell Street (WC2B 5JD) between the Royal Opera House and the Theater Royal Drury Lane, and I can recommend it as an ideal cool down and cream up – speaking as a person who’s made it a life goal to find the best gelato anywhere.

Leicester Square (Wyndhams, London Hippodrome – 3 minutes; Shaftesbury Avenue – 5 minutes): this area is a diner’s wasteland. Pick one of my options nearby and add walking time, or roll the dice and go for Chinese. And I’ve finally found one I like: the Baozi Inn, on the little alley behind Shaftesbury. Cash only, £8 minimum, fantastic, traditional Chinese food. For those of you at the Palace Theater, Taro (10 Old Compton Street, W1D 4TF), a Japanese food restaurant, has cheapie prices and quickie service and a tasty, unpretentious menu. Don’t kill your wallet with sushi, get a chicken teriyaki don for £5.90. At these prices I can promise you’ll be back later.

South “West End” (Haymarket Theatre, Her Majesty’s Theatre – 3 minutes; Comedy Theatre – 5 minutes; Criterion Theatre – 8 minutes): my former favorite Galileo’s Locanda Toscana has been replaced by a corporate Italian joint, Assagetti, at the same address, 71 Haymarket (SW1Y 4RW). I hate the stools and the fake charm but they’ve got the speed thing down and you can get three small dishes for £11.25 and still make it to the Haymarket – or over to Shaftesbury Avenue – with time to spare. (And if you were looking for a place where you could get fifty or so people in, their basement space is huge.) However, I’m too picky about my Italian to come here again.

On the other hand if you’re feeling brave and you’re willing to plunge into the heart of Soho, walk straight up Sherwood street, past the Picadilly Theater and the back side of Whole Foods, along Golden Square until you get to Beak Street (go left!), home of the brilliant Flat Iron Steak House, my cheap eats find for 2014. £10 for a steak with a side salad and some popcorn to nibble on I KID YOU NOT (other sides £3-£4ish). Trick is you need to be there at 6 sharp (or earlier) if there’s any chance of you getting a seat as they don’t take reservations and fill up fast. But it’s SO WORTH IT as the steak is always EXCELLENT. And they usually have some other kind of special like a burger or a different cut of steak. Once you’re sat down, you can order, eat and leave in about 30 minutes, which is a kind of a dream for me but also as a theater goer gives you time to get to your show. So if you’re seeing anything on Shaftesbury or near Haymarket, just do it because this restaurant ROCKS. Book of Mormon AND STEAK! Dirty Dancing AND STEAK! Les Miserables AND STEAK! I mean, hey, if you’re working £15 tickets, why not make it £25 and say AND I HAD STEAK!

North-“West End” and Soho Square (Dominion and Shaftesbury): I will often come eat here and then make the trek further south, leaving the restaurant at 7:10 or so depending on distance. Best options are:
Enrique Tomas, a “jamon iberico” ham emporium selling fantastic cheap sarnies for about £3.50 a shot if you go for the cheap stuff. It’s not entirely a meal, but OMG ham it’s just like being in Spain. Perfectly situated for the Soho Theater and if you want a big meal you can grab one after your show, or get a cupcake from Hummingbird Bakery (across the street) or Gails (next door).
Thai Cottage, fondly known as “Five Alarm Thai” (34 D’arblay St, London, W1F 8EX) – With lunches and pre-theater dinners for around £7, and the food all made in the kitchen by granny, this one gets visits from me any time I’m near Soho Square/Tottenham Court Road.

Not exactly cheap but absolutely awesome is the Pitt Cue Co, very conveniently located near the London Palladium (1 Newburgh St, W1F 7RG near to Oxford Circus). Their barbeque is not just good, it’s world class, and I’ve had barbeque all over Kansas, Texas, and Mississippi, not to mention nearly every other state in the US I’ve been to. However, their 6 PM opening time may not give you enough time to make a 7:30 show, so perhaps you should consider it for a matinee on a Saturday, or just a dreamy night of barbeque. MMM mmm MMM!

Inamo (134 Wardour Street, W1F 8ZR) – this amusing restaurant can be very competitive to get a seat at, but with a £10.00 pre-theater menu that neither my husband nor I could finish (baby back ribs, kakiage, homemade pickles, rice and edamame), it’s utterly worth the effort. To top it off, the interior is SO cute and the “touch your table to place your order” gimmick is fun and seems to result in getting your food much faster than it would at any normal joint. No need for faffing – just tap the table and BOOM people come brink you food. You can even watch them making it on a video cam that projects in front of you!

Speaking of Thai, AVOID AT ALL COSTS the “all you can eat Vegan Thai food” joints springing up all over London like poop in a park on a sunny day. I’ve been to Tai Buffet and Tai Veg and the quality was EXCEEDINGLY poor. Frankly I would have rather not had all you can eat and just had one thing I WANTED to eat besides the dried seaweed.

Icco Pizza (46 Goodge Street, W1T 4LU) – add an extra 5 minutes for any destination but with pizzas between £4 and £5 this may be worth the hike for you.

Southbank and Waterloo (National Theatre, Old Vic, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Young Vic): while the National Theatre can actually feed you for about £5 at their downstairs cafe, clever theater goers will instead head to Culture Grub, halfway betweeen the Young and Old Vic (84 The Cut London SE1 8LW). Their ultra-discount Chinese plates are filling and served in about three minutes – a real gift if you were held up at work but still want more than a packet of crisps before the interval. Or you might want to go for some speedy Mexican at Wahaca’s Waterloo location (101 Waterloo Road SE1 8UL), cunningly located directly across the street from Waterloo’s big tube entrance. They also have a location right on the Southbank, though this location has shorter lines and is closer to the Vics. But if you’ve made it to Southwark Playhouse, it’s impossible for you to not go to Mar I Tierra, the most perfect tapas place I could ever dream of finding. It’s the kind of place that makes you pick your theater based on your food. You can rack up a big bill if you want but you can also get a bowl of gazpacho, some olives, and a cheese plate for around £10, though if you can resist a jug of sangria you’re made of stronger stuff than me. There’s a menu of daily specials and OH the garden. What a joy!

Sloane Square i.e. the Southwest “West End” (Royal Court, Cadogan Hall): Now that the Royal Court is the new Donmar (and just don’t they have great deals on tickets for their shows!), it’s important for the frugal theater-goer to have a nearby dining option. I’m delighted with the La Bottega (65 Lower Sloane Street, SW1W 8HD, 5 minutes to Royal Court, 10 minutes to Cadogan Hall), which, even though it closes at 8PM, is still open at good hours for pre-show diners. Sadly, their hours are much shorter on weekends (6 PM close Saturdays, 5 PM Sundays), but them’s the breaks.

Slightly east West End, aka Islington (Sadler’s Wells, Almeida): the obvious cheap choice for Sadler’s Wells attendees is the Garden Court Cafe, located at the Lilian Baylis entrance to the theater. The menu is limited but with hot mains around 7 quid and sandwiches for four, this is the best and closest option – and especially convenient for weekend matinees. Bonus: free wifi!

Masala Zone (80 Upper Street, N1 0NU, 8 minutes to Almeida, 15 to Sadler’s Wells) has a pre-theatre dinner combo for under £10. Oregano Pizzeria (St. Alban’s Place, N1 0NX, right around the corner from Masala Zone so same distances) makes real, Italian style pizza in a proper oven and has tasty, affordable pastas, though beef and seafood hits the over £10 mark. I’d also recommend it for a sit down and relax kind of meal if you don’t have theatre tickets hanging over your head. Finally, Banana Tree Canteen (412 St. John Street, EC1V 4NJ, 8 minutes to Sadlers, Wells, 15-20 to the Almeida) serves up nice cheap plates and bowls of Thai and Malaysian food and has an early-bird dinner deal for about £8, starter and main. They are cheap and good enough to warrant a visit to on a normal basis, since their available any time “combo plate” is only £8.95 and includes one of many mains, rice, and two sides so is a complete screaming deal. Note that it’s best if you aren’t too fussed about having really authentic Oriental food (it’s still miles above Wagamama and their Laksa rocks the house) and don’t mind the occasionally lame service.
Tenshi Japanese Restaurant and Sushi bar
(61 Upper Street). I made it here during the Flamenco festival and wound up going three times in two weeks – the truly authentic Japanese food (almost all under £10, sushi and non-fish food both available) really worked for me. Shame they don’t have beef teriyaki but vegetarian options are available – but note they close between 3 and 6PM.
Way-out West End, aka Hammersmith (Lyric Hammersmith, Hammersmith Apollo): Akash Tandoor (177 King Street, W6 9JT). I highly recommend their 20 quid two person combo – it’s an eight minute walk to the Lyric but SUCH a better option pricewise than Chula!

Barbican and Old Street (Barbican, Silk Street Theater, etc.): If you want some really good Italian food before you go to a show at the Barbican and don’t want to break your budget, Amico Bio (44 Cloth Fair London EC1A 7JQ ) has incredibly tasty food and a price point that will make your eyes glitter. At about £7 for an entree, it’s a perfect place to show up at for an antipasto and a main and still be able to leave without having even spent a tenner. They are literally five minutes walk from the tube (but print a map out at this neighborhood is very medieval) but it will take you 15 very brisk minutes to get back on the highwalk and in the Barbican theater so leave time. HIGHLY recommended especially given how overpriced and pants the Barbican’s house restaurants are.

If you’re really going for cheap, you might also try Grab Thai food (about 5 steps south of Old Street station at 5 Leonard Street, London EC2A 4AQ), where you can get a small pot of curry and rice for under £5, but they close at 7PM on weekdays so you need to move fast. Still, if it’s sunny you can get it to go and eat it at the waterpark in the middle of the Barbican, which would be just VERY nice.

Far-east West End (Hackney Empire, Arcola): two different neighborhoods, one restaurant with locations in both: 19 Numara Bos Cirrik (Dalston branch at 34 Stoke Newington Road, Dalston, N16 7XJ, Hackney at 1-3 Amhurst Road, E8 1LL). Free starters, piles of food for cheap, occasional flying charcoal bits turning your table into a barbeque grill, YUM! In fact, this restaurant is so good, it’s made me start going to the Arcola more.

Southeast West End Docklands/Wapping/South End (Wilton’s Music Hall): “Bon Appetit” Lebanese restaurant (133 Leman Street, really very close and in a neighborhood that’s a bit of a wasteland). The food here is really good (it’s mostly reproduced here) and it’s within about six steps of Wilton’s, so if you find yourself in this tremendously underserved area and hungry, give it a try. It’s not worth a separate trip but it’s definitely tasty and can hold its head up high no matter where the location.

Far North West End (Tricycle): Small & Beautiful. About five doors up from the Tricycle, this restaurant is a tightwad’s dream come true. Most of the entrees were around 5 quid, the starters were about 2, and I was able to get a glass of decent wine for 2.50 – our total for two (with one glass of wine) was 16 quid. And the food was yummy and attractively presented. After the horrible experience I had at the African restaurant down the street, this will be my new home in Kilburn henceforth, possibly encouraging me to brave the great Northern unknown more frequently.

Greenwich (Greenwich Theater): on a corner of the Greenwich Market is the wonderful “Goddards at Greenwich,” a traditional pie and mash shop that’s been running since 1890. Like most traditional pie and mash places, you can feed yourself for under £5 and tea is less than a quid. It’s about ten minutes from the rail station but only five minutes from the theater. Highly recommended if you’re on the way to the annual panto!

Clapham North (Landor Pub Theater): NOVEMBER 2014 update: either remodeling or closed, will let you know! Directly across from the quieter street flanking the Clapham North tube station, Alba pizzeria is THE place to go for a quick and decent meal before a show at the Landor. On Mondays and Tuesdays (I think) they do a “pizza and a glass of wine” deal for 10 quid, but this isn’t the draw: it’s the fact that their pizza is good, really good. I mean, who cares about the deal? Truth is that their wine is cheaper than the Landor anyway and there’s a much better selection, so just eat here before the show and have a glass of wine to boot. The house at the Landor doesn’t open until ten minutes before curtain anyway so no reason to rush.

*Sure, you can always pack a meal, buy bread and cheese at the store, get a quick (overpriced) sandwich at Pret, find a pasty (this is actually not the worst thing to do if you want to stick under £4, and there is a Cornish Pasty shop cunningly located in Covent Garden), or go to some chain pizza joint. But I want a good meal, something I actually enjoy.