Royal Opera House
Taking up two and a half acres of prime West End property, it’s little wonder that the Royal Opera House simply goes by the name “Covent Garden”. Originally built in 1732 and known as the Theatre Royal, Handel wrote a number of operas and oratorios to be sung on its stage. Despite burning down twice (once in 1808 and again in 1856), Royal Opera House mark III has retained the pedigree of its ancestors and is currently home to both the Royal Opera and the Royal Ballet. Catch a glimpse of London behind the scene with a backstage tour of this iconic theatre. Visitors can watch members of the Royal Ballet as they practice, observe the technical preparations taking place on and off the stage and take a peak inside the prop-room.
The National Theatre
If the National Theatre’s brutalist architecture divides opinion, the quality of its plays are less contested. And if its exterior looks like a nuclear reactor, it only reflects the National’s “powerhouse” reputation. Even its “Up Late” tour is quite full on. On Mondays only, visitors are invited (read: obligated) to don high-vis vests and hard hats and venture up to the lighting bridges above the Olivier stage for a rare chance to see the technical side of theatre production. Sensible footwear and a head for heights are a must. The more conservatively inclined will enjoy the backstage tour, offering a glimpse into rehearsals, prop and costume manufacture.
Royal Albert Hall
Built by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert with the aim of bringing the arts to the masses, Albert did not live to see the completion of this auditorium in 1871. With its striking red brick exterior and 13,000 letter “A”s littered throughout, the Royal Albert Hall really is a love letter from a widow to her late husband (albeit on a grand-scale). Used for everything from tennis matches to the BBC Proms, there is a sense of public spirit here that’s best recognised on a behind the scenes tour. After viewing the splendid rotunda with its 6,000 seats and the grandeur of the Royal Retiring Room, you’ll step behind the facade to see the Loading Bay, where production companies ferry their equipment in and out. In the dressing rooms, you’ll be able to see the private preparation spaces of some of the world’s best performers.