In today’s London theatre scene, the biggest stars regularly appear, and new talent has the chance to learn and take to the stage. The area comprised of Piccadilly, Soho, and Covent Garden is a sight to behold – especially during the Christmas season, when twinkling lights dangle from the rooftops, and you can find a Pikachu wearing a Santa suit socialising with a Darth Vader in Leicester Square. I’d choose the West End over Broadway any day. London is the home of musical phenomena and indie hits, a seat of theatrical history and innovation – where directors, writers, designers, and actors are remaking the status quo and addressing socio-political issues, often drawing on lived experience to do so.

Just after Christmas, I went back to London to see two of my favourite musicals for the second time (buying the cheapest possible seats for each): Moulin Rouge! and Matilda

The latter has been the pride of the UK for ten years, and the production is still selling out nightly. This show is full of youthful wonder, brought to life by a rotating cast of almost thirty child actors. Matilda remains a heart-warming spectacle, and an unmoving pillar of the London theatre scene; the Cambridge Theatre has been its home since it debuted in 2011.

I raved about Moulin Rouge! in a review last year, because while the West End’s newcomer is far more risqué than Matilda, it is no less dazzling. Moulin Rouge! debuted last year, and even though the original cast has now departed, the show hasn’t lost any momentum. I mentioned that I bought the cheapest possible ticket – but sitting in the back row was still amazing as this production makes excellent use of the space at the Piccadilly Theatre. The walls of the gallery are decorated with red drapes and hanging fairy lights, bringing even those seated furthest away into the setting of the show.

Beyond the West End, Shakespeare’s Globe and the Royal Albert Hall are landmarks in the history of the performing arts in London. However, while these venues offer marvellous performances, they also both hold tours to educate the public, which I highly recommend. Yet London is a place where the old and the new meet. A musical version of Shakespeare’s As You Like It is now showing at @sohoplace, the first new theatre built in the West End in 50 years, while new talent is nurtured and cultivated at the Young Vic. The highly praised political drama Best of Enemies, starring David Harewood and Zachary Quinto as politically opposed debaters William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal respectively, recently moved from the Young Vic to the Noël Coward Theatre in West End.

Box office giants which have been around for years (such as Wicked or The Lion King) will always be worthwhile, and you can visit the TKTS booth at Leicester Square to score a deal on tickets. Newer smash hits are just as thrilling – Six is dominating North America and has enthroned itself at the Vaudeville Theatre in London. But beyond the West End’s multi-million-dollar musicals, London theatre still thrives. Re-imagining fairy tales and children’s stories seems to be last year’s most popular trend: both The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and Hex just finished their runs. The former is Sally Cookson’s re-imagining of C. S. Lewis’s novel, focusing more on themes of war with gorgeous set and costume design, while the latter is an avant-garde take on Sleeping Beauty. Yet, I am most intrigued by the RSC’s adaptation of Studio Ghibli’s My Neighbour Totoro, for which Jim Henson’s Creature Shop built many puppets to play various cuddly creatures, including a giant Totoro!

Recently, there have also been several shows which challenge traditional concepts of gender and sexuality, giving queer actors and writers the chance to tell their stories. This includes Orlando at the Garrick Theatre and I, Joan at the Globe. Megan Lee gave a positive review of the Joan of Arc retelling (written by Charlie Josephine and starring Isobel Thom) which features the eponymous character re-imagined as a non-binary person. Meanwhile, Orlando is an adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s novel about a young man in Elizabeth I’s court who wakes up to find he has been transformed into a woman (starring The Crown’s Emma Corrin).

London theatre offers many chances to immerse yourself in other worlds and learn something that will have an impact on your own life – and there are more than a few opportunities for bargains, especially if you are willing to buy tickets the day of the show at the TKTS booth or another location. Some of the shows I have mentioned are ongoing, but several are only running during the start of 2023; there is still so much more to come from London this year!

NB: Matilda, Moulin Rouge!, Wicked, The Lion King, and Six are all ongoing. My Neighbour Totoro is playing until 21 January, As You Like It until 28 January, Best of Enemies until 18 February, and Orlando until 25 February. I, Joan, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and Hex have closed. The book for I, Joan is available at the Bodleian.