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A West End Performer’s Guide to London With Sam Harrison

Join Sam Harrison as he shares his favourite spots around the theatre scene in London
Join Sam Harrison as he shares his favourite spots around the theatre scene in London | Courtesy of Sam Harrison
Photo of Alicia Miller
23 November 2021
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Looking for Soho’s best pre-theatre menus or a top pantomime for Christmas? Follow our insider’s guide to the culture-packed British capital…

As a West End performer who’s appeared in The Phantom of the Opera, Les Misérables and Avenue Q, Sam Harrison knows his way around Soho and central London. He’s also an accomplished pantomime performer, nominated for Best Leading Male in the 2018 Great British Pantomime Awards, no less. In between performances, we grabbed the actor to gain his tips on where to catch a ​​cabaret in the city and dine like you’re on the set of a Wes Anderson film.

The Turbine Theatre

Theatre
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LONDON:  Entrance to the Turbine Theatre under the Grosvenor Bridge railway arches at Circus West Village
© Chris Lawrence / Alamy Stock Photo
“This is one of London’s newest, most vibrant theatres, right at the foot of the redeveloped Battersea Power Station. The artistic director here, Paul Taylor Mills, has worked with Andrew Lloyd Webber and champions new work. I knew I needed to collaborate with him on my show Love is Only Love. The story, which I wrote, is about a young boy’s search for love using Hollywood musicals as his guide. It’s autobiographical and celebrates love, acceptance and the joy of theatre itself.”

Ruby Lucy

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Courtesy of Ruby Lucy Hotel / Expedia.com
“This hotel is less than a 10-minute walk from some of London’s best theatres, including the National Theatre, the Old Vic and the Young Vic. It’s also close to the South Bank, home to one of London’s top Christmas markets with glühwein and hot donuts. But despite the central location, the road it’s on is really peaceful, and also has a great ice-cream shop, Candiero Gelato. I love that the hotel decor is colourful and anarchic – you almost feel like you’re in a circus tent – and the bar is really cosy.”
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Brasserie Zédel

Bar, Brasserie, Restaurant, French, $$$
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Brasserie Zedel Restaurant in London UK
© M.Sobreira / Alamy Stock Photo
“Glamorous but affordable, this brasserie in the heart of theatreland is a cross between a Wes Anderson film and an Agatha Christie novel. There’s a fin de siècle Viennese vibe with gold, red velvet, marble pillars, chandeliers – even a pianist tinkling in the background. And, I think, the best service in London. Order the prix-fixe because it’s cheap and delicious, ticking off three courses, including steak. I go before catching a West End show, or Zédel’s own cabaret in the Crazy Coqs bar.”

Hackney Empire

Theatre
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Hackney Empire Theatre, Mare Street, Hackney Central, London Borough of Hackney, Greater London, England, United Kingdom
© Greg Balfour Evans / Alamy Stock Photo
“Hackney Empire has one of the greatest pantomimes in the country. It’s a local show – as all good ones should be – with the jokes made for residents and the team reflecting the diversity of Hackney itself. But the production values are West End standard. The Empire has one of the best pantomime dames too, Clive Rowe, who is charismatic, utterly loveable and deliciously saucy. Tickets go on sale as early as a year in advance.”

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  • Bar Bruno

    Cafe, British
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    Bar Bruno
    © Garry Knight
    “If you want to catch West End actors from the likes of Phantom of the Opera or Les Misérables on their break between performances, head to this old-fashioned greasy spoon on Wardour Street. On a two-show day, we turn up to Bruno’s before warm-up for an enormous English breakfast with white toast dripping in butter, streaky bacon and tea you can stand a spoon in. In between the matinee and evening performance, we come back for family-style Italian plates of spaghetti bolognese followed by sfogliatelle pastries. It’s good energy, but sometimes we eat way too much and regret it.”

    Seven Dials Playhouse

    Building
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    “One of my favourite places, the ​​Seven Dials Playhouse – formerly known as the Actors Centre – offers an array of one-off workshops on all the skills that go into being an actor, whether you’re an amateur or professional. Sign up for something broad, like Shakespearean monologues, or go really focused, working on American accents. If you want to pick up pantomime skills, I’d suggest clowning workshops, physical comedy or commedia dell’arte – a type of Italian medieval street theatre that is the basis for modern pantomime.”

    Victoria and Albert Museum

    Museum
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    LONDON, UK - CIRCA JANUARY, 2018: Victoria and Albert Museum hal
    © Pio3 / Depositphotos.com
    “The V&A has something called the Theatre & Performance Collection, covering almost everything related to the history of theatre, from theatrical designs to books, plus props used in famous productions. My favourites are the costumes worn by famous actors – standing in front of them is almost like seeing a ghost. It’s moving and thrilling at the same time. For example, I think that seeing the jacket that Noël Coward wore on stage tells you so much about him and his character.”

    The Understudy Bar

    Craft Ale Bar, Beer, $$$
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    The Understudy-Bar on the South-Bank-London- National Theatre (3)_0
    Courtesy of southbanklondon.com
    “Nestled at the base of the brutalist-masterpiece National Theatre, this bar has an enormous range of independent and unusual craft beers, gins, ales and mead. It’s not your typical theatre bar – typically small, cramped and tucked behind the dress circle, where you have to fight for a drink at the interval. Rather, it was designed to be a social space, facing out to the river and the community. It’s a place where theatre-industry people always meet, drink and relax.”

    The Hoxton Hotel Holborn

    4.5/5 (409 Reviews)
    The Hoxton Hotel Holborn
    Courtesy of The Hoxton Hotel Holborn / Expedia.com
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    Now from $215 per night
    “Right at the top of Shaftesbury Avenue, one of the great parades of theatres in the West End, is this sleek, sexy and modern hotel. It’s filled with young, hip media types. I really enjoy the food – especially the mullet with fennel and aioli – but there are also some fantastic Japanese restaurants nearby like Kanada-Ya and Fushan. You’re not far from Christmas shopping at Tottenham Court Road either – and, of course, the most enormous pantomime in the country, at the London Palladium, is minutes away.”
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