Once upon a time in sixteenth-century London, a man named James Burbage‹who would later open the Globe Theatre and employ an up-and-coming actor named William Shakespeare‹opened the first public theatre, and legitimate theatre in London was born. Nowadays, London has dozens of theatres: from the mainstream West End‹ offering long-running marvels like Agatha Christie¹s "The Mousetrap"‹to the Fringe, London¹s Off-Broadway. With renowned theatre companies like the Royal National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company, London theatre offers unparalleled excitement for all.
Covent Garden Images of Shaw¹s "Pygmalion" aside, Covent Garden offers more than just Eliza Doolittle peddling flowers. The former flower and vegetable market is now a cobbled piazza full of shopping‹from conventional stores like Crabtree & Evelyn to wrought-iron street-side stands‹not to mention entertainment. Around the open-air cafes, beside the Royal Opera House and in front of St. Paul¹s Church, Buskers act, sing, dance and spin their spiel. All they ask for this continuous show is a few chance coins from your pocket as they pass the hat with their standard line: ³The more you give, the more I¹ll have.²
A short walk from Covent Garden¹s center (on Russell Street) is the Theatre Museum. Housed in the same structure that once was the Garden¹s flower market, the museum traces the history of theatre from Shakespeare¹s time to recent West End openings. Among their displays are Julie Andrews¹s costume from "My Fair Lady" and Tom Thumb¹s waistcoat.
Stratford-Upon-Avon The birth of William Shakespeare is celebrated daily in Stratford-Upon-Avon, some 80 miles northwest of London. Named for the swan-populated Avon River, which swirls through the heart of town, Stratford is the place for bard lovers. From the high-beamed ceilings of the Holy Trinity Church, where Shakespeare is buried, to his birthplace to his wife (Anne Hathaway¹s famous thatched-roof cottage), Stratford merits at least a day trip for theatre lovers. Lengthier stays should include a performance at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, visits to the New Place (a museum of Stratford history) and Hall¹s Croft, the residence of the physician who married Shakespeare¹s daughter Susanna.
LONDON ADVENTURE: A true theatre adventure hosted by Playbill Magazine and British Airways includes six nights accommodation, round-trip air fare, full English breakfasts, tickets to four shows, backstage tours of the Theatre Royal and Drury Lane theatres, four dinner vouchers, an evening at Theatre Restaurant in London (where you dine while West End musical stars sing after their shows close) and other benefits. Tours start at $1,339; call 1-800-222-7342. -- By Sandra Mardenfeld