Mark Bibby Jackson reviews London Theatres, a guide to London’s Theatres by Michael Coveney and Peter Dazeley with foreword by actor Mark Rylance published by Frances Lincoln.

One of the most memorable elements in going to the theatre in London can be the theatre itself – with some performances it is the only thing you would wish to remember from the occasion.

As a youth I would often go to West End, fringe theatres and the National Theatre. Always I would stare up at the ceiling, admire the architecture, or more likely given my financial situation, look down upon the cast assembled before me on the stage far below. Always there was an intimacy that you could never capture on screen or TV. It was this that I loved about the theatre.

London Theatres

Sondheim Theatre, ©Peter Dazeley, London Theatres
Sondheim Theatre, © Peter Dazeley, London Theatres

In London Theatres, Michael Coveney takes you on a behind-the-scenes tour of 53 theatres in the UK capital from grand and mighty to the small and intimate. Beautifully adorned by Peter Dazeley’s stunning photography, the book features the architecture, productions and personalities that define each theatre.

The book, offers a unique overview of world class theatrical spaces that have welcomed smash hit musicals, West End shows, cutting-edge works, Shakespeare in its original staging, outdoor performances and intimate fringe theatre. From Grade I listed Haymarket and The London Palladium, Shakespeare’s Globe and the Royal Court to the Hackney Empire and Stratford East, this wondrous book spans the whole capital.

Originally published in 2017 and shortlisted for the Society for Theatre Research Theatre Book Prize 2018, this updated edition takes you on a further tour of the venues that make London what it is.

The book is sub-divided into easy to follow sections from Grandes Dames, such as the Royal Opera House and the London Coliseum to Popular Landmarks, such as Shakespeare’s Globe and The Old Vic, and West End Jewels including St Martin’s Theatre and Wyndham’s Theatre.

The Menier Chococlate Factory_ set from The Boyfriend © Peter Dazeley, London Theatres
The Menier Chococlate Factory, set from The Boyfriend © Peter Dazeley, London Theatres

A Foreword from Mark Rylance

London Theatres is not just a pretty face. Mark Rylance’s Foreword provides an interesting insight into what it is like to perform in these wonder palaces – the key is to look up as you enter the stage for the first time apparently.

For Rylance the key to theatre is when the actor and audience have become one. “The old theatres celebrated the audience,” he says.

“The more you look at it [London Theatre] and read, the more you learn,” he writes. “I hope that it will help protect these architectural treasures of our nation of storytellers.”

Read London Theatres and see if you agree. And remember, next time you are sitting in the theatre and there is a lull in the drama, just look up. There are more things in heaven and earth than just on the stage.

London Theatres 2nd edition
London Theatres cover and inside spread
Michael Coveney

Is a drama critic who has written for the Financial Times, The Observer and the Daily Mail. He has previously written books on the history of the Glasgow Citizens Theatre, as well as biographies of Dame Maggie Smith and Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Peter Dazeley

Dazeley is a member of the Association of Photographers and a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society, and was recognised in the Queen’s 2017 New Year’s Honours list for his services to photography and charity.

London Theatres is part of a series published by Frances Lincoln and photographed by Peter Dazeley including Unseen London and Discover London Explored.

London Theatres

Photography by Peter Dazeley. Words by Mark Daly. Published by Frances Lincoln, an imprint of the Quarto Group.

October 2020 | £35 Hardback.

Main image: Royal Opera House ©Peter Dazeley, London Theatres