Stories about London being a "ghost town" during the Olympics, with many people staying away from the centre of town, have been picked up in many newspapers. But the good news is that, for theatregoers and London lovers of all types, there's no better time to visit the West End.
Here are our top ten reasons not to stay away from Theatreland during the sporting season, starting with just how much easier, cheaper and more pleasant your theatregoing can be at this time...
There are great deals on many top West End shows at the moment, and whether you prefer plays or musicals, there's something for everyone. Here are some of our favourite deals currently on offer:
Now is also your last chance to see several of London's longer-running musicals, not least, Chicago, which is closing on 1 September 2012 after almost 15 years in the West End, and as just announced this week, Willy Russell's Blood Brothers, which is closing on 27 October 2012 after nearly 24 years. The end of an era for some much-loved West End institutions.
You've already missed Dreamboats and Petticoats, closed this past Saturday. Act fast to catch the following productions for the first or last time before it's too late:
Late availability on sell-out shows
If you've been meaning to book up for London's hottest tickets, but have been put off by having to plan six months ahead, now's definitely the time to act spontaneously. New tickets have been released over the coming weeks for blockbusters including the following:
Best of the Bard in latest phase of World Shakespeare Festival
The World Shakespeare Festival moves up a gear with Royal Shakespeare Company's transfer of Julius Caesar, directed by incoming artistic director Gregory Doran, to the West End's Noel Coward Theatre, which outgoing artistic director Michael Boyd says is the greatest production of the play he's ever seen.
You can also see Simon Russell Beale starring in Timon of Athens at the National Theatre, plus multiple Tony and Olivier Award winner Mark Rylance is back at Shakespeare's Globe, where he was founding artistic director, now tearing it up to rave reviews as Richard III. Before catching any of these top performances, you can brush up on your Shakespeare at the British Museum, where its new exhibition Shakespeare: Staging the World, illustrates the emerging role of London as a world city 400 years ago through the perspective of Shakespeare's plays.
Cheap eats, shorter queues
Restaurants are also reporting fewer covers at the moment, which means you can take advantage of some great pre-theatre meal deals on offer in restaurants all over Theatreland, with restaurants offering up to 50% off on booking sites like www.toptable.com. Pubs and bars are also not as crowded as normal, so you shouldn't have to fight so hard for the bartender's attention for your pre-, post-show or interval drinks. There are also sparser crowds at some of London's other top attractions, such as London Eye, Madame Tussaud's and the National Gallery, so even more reason to make a full day of it.
Smoother, later, faster transport
There are more trains running on the network during the Olympics and Paralympics, and later operating hours, with London Underground trains running past 1am every day. The streets are also a lot quieter, with many buses half empty, and it has never been so easy to hail a taxi.
The West End vs the East End? Sport vs theatre? It's not an either-or choice, by the way. If you're a sports lover as well as an arts lover, it's easy to combine your interests with games-related exhibitions and shows.
Keeping up to date on Team GB
There are lots of places showing the Games around Theatreland including big screens in Hyde Park and Trafalgar Square, and just about every pub with a television, so you never need to wonder about Team GB's medal count. Even if you're attending one of the Olympics or Paralympics sessions, you can easily indulge your theatre passion on the same day. This month's smooth-running transport enables you to and from the Olympic Park in Stratford in record time. Catching the Central Line to Tottenham Court Road or Jubilee Line to Green Park will get you from East End to West End in about 20 minutes, or jump on the special Javelin trains and you'll be across town in just seven minutes! The Javelin trains have eight trains per hour from 5am to 11pm, 12 per hour between 11pm and 2am and then run every half hour until 5am.
Follow the Olympic Journey through time
As part of the London 2012 Festival, BP and the Royal Opera House have joined forces with the Olympic Museum in Lausanne to create a free and unique exhibition telling the Olympic story through the endeavours of ancient and modern Olympians. This exhibition includes artefacts from athletes through the ages, audio and film, the summer Olympic Medals since 1896 and the summer Olympic Torches since 1936.
Free entry 10am-6.15pm every day until 12 August at Royal Opera House - The Olympic Journey website
Pictures for your scrapbook
Definitely stick around the West End after night, and head for the closest bridge after the show. As part of Mayor of London Presents, Dazzle: Bridge Illumination sees seven of London's bridges including Tower Bridge, London Bridge and the Millennium Bridge lit up to celebrate the 50 evenings of the Olympic and Paralympic Games. These spectacular light displays last from 9.30pm until 5am, with a special moment taking place on the hour, every hour. The Houses of Parliament are also being illuminated with Olympic athletes from 1908 to the present day, journeying through the modern Olympic era with Great British triumphs. The 15-minute Parliamentary shows play from 9.30pm to 12am.
Chariots' modern twist
Last but not least, we'll cross the finish line with another theatrical reason to come to the West End. If you haven't overdosed on Vangelis from watching myriad medal presentations, you should hear it played out in full against the story it inspired, Chariots of Fire, at the Gielgud Theatre. The cast pay a rousing tribute to today's Team GB during the curtain call too and daily medal successes are also woven into the interval entertainment. There's also a great rendition of "Jerusalem", more gold medals and copious flag-waving to get you even more into the Olympic spirit.
For more Olympics-related theatre news and show listings, visit our dedicated microsite /summer2012.
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