James Haddrell : must see Valentine theatre treats

I have often bemoaned the fact that the scale of West End theatre prices often means that a trip to see a big play or musical has to be a treat – a birthday present or an anniversary tradition – something that you spend the year saving up for and don’t feel you can justify spending the money on at other points in the year.

Sales of theatre tokens, the easiest way to gift theatre to someone else (short of taking them there yourself), are always at their highest in the lead-up to Christmas, the epitome of once-a-year treats.

For Valentine’s Day tonight, theatres will similarly be full of couples on dates, celebrating a special night with an annual trip to a show.

There is nothing wrong with theatre being special – I would never want to take away any of the magic of a trip to the theatre from anyone.

It’s an absolute privilege for me to be able to work in theatre, and seeing a live performance is and should be a special thing, but special should not have to mean rare.

If taking someone to see a show on February 14 would make them feel loved, just think what a visit on the 14th of every month would do.

That might not be practical at West End prices, but there’s a lot on offer beyond the West End too – so why not start a new tradition next Friday and see something different, something at one of London’s off-West End or fringe theatres, and then with the money left over maybe head out and see something else the Friday after that.

Here are just a few off-beat tips with which to launch that tradition tonight – not classic Valentines’ shows but magical theatrical experiences nonetheless.

Start with one of these and then venture out to London’s smaller theatrical powerhouses and find yourself the second trip in a new tradition.

Polly: the Heart Break Opera

Sharp Teeth Theatre’s Polly (The Heartbreak Opera) at Greenwich Theatre is an up-to-the-second version of John Gay’s banned sequel to The Beggar’s Opera, which sees Polly Peachum travelling to the West Indies in search of the errant Macheath.

Shortlisted for last year’s Les Enfants Terribles Edinburgh award, the show promises to be a viciously satirical, very funny not-quite-musical, with songs inspired by Peaches, Britney and Nina Simone.

The Sugar Syndrome at the Orange Tree Theatre sees the revival of the debut play by Lucy Prebble (writer of TV’s Succession), unpicking the relationship between 17-year-old Dani, looking to meet someone online, and the man twice her age who thinks she’s an 11-year-old boy.

The High Table (main pic) at the Bush Theatre is about the perfect Nigerian wedding, or at least that’s the plan.

The dresses are chosen, the venue’s been booked and the RSVPs are flooding in. But Tara’s wedding to her girlfriend Leah is suddenly derailed when her parents refuse to attend.

Finally La Cage aux Folles at the Park Theatre sees Jean Poiret’s original play (which has since spawned four blockbuster films and the Tony Award-winning musical) presented in a new version by Simon Callow.

Bringing your soon-to-be in-laws to have dinner with your own parents is surely stressful enough, but Laurent’s father-
in-law-to-be is a right wing politician and his parents are a gay couple who run the most spectacular drag cabaret in St Tropez.

None of these are Valentine’s classics, but all would guarantee a fantastic evening in the theatre, with enough money left over from the West End savings fund to pick another show next week or month and embark on a new tradition of year-round theatre-­going.


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