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Travel: Best way to enjoy the theatre on a London city break

© SYSTEMThe Company of The Play That Goes Wrong
The Company of The Play That Goes Wrong

I am sitting in the Duchess Theatre in the heart of London and I am crying. I look over at my partner and he is crying, too. But our tears are not those drawn out by some heart-tugging play, but by the hilarious scenes on stage.

We are in the audience of the matinee performance of The Play That Goes Wrong. The Olivier Award-winning comedy, now in it’s 8th year, follows The Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society as they put on a murder mystery but, as the title suggests, everything that can go wrong, does.

The action begins before we take our seats with the characters mingling with the audience. Lighting and sound engineer Trevor (played by Tomisin Ajani) is manically searching front of house for his misplaced Duran Duran CD (a plot device for later) and anxious stage manager Annie (Ashh Blackwood) is loitering in the bar, wringing her hands. The nervous energy sets the tone for what’s to come.

The following two hours see the hapless thespians battle against the odds to make it through to their final curtain call. Actors miss cues, lines are forgotten and sets collapse in what is honestly the funniest thing I’ve seen in years. The little girl sitting behind us agrees, judging by her infectious giggling. By the end we have made our minds up to take our nine-year-old son next time.

The Waldorf Hilton

After the show we float on a wave of endorphins, into the buzzing streets of Covent Garden. It’s still early so we make the most of the autumn sunshine in the nearby Lincoln Inn Fields. Leaving the noisy traffic behind, we join other city dwellers looking for a slice of calm. Families are eating sandwiches on park benches, children chase squirrels and we can hear the gentle pop-pop of tennis being played on tennis courts.

The leafty square takes its name from the adjacent Lincoln’s Inn, a society of barristers, situated on an estate of historic buildings which looks like Hogwarts. When we are there it has been cordoned off for a camera crew. We spy a horse and buggy and a few extras in Victorian garb, though the security guard refuses to tell us any more.

Feeling recharged we are ready to join the throng of the Italian-style Covent Garden Piazza, a 10-minute walk away. Until the mid-70s this was home to London’s fruit and veg markets. Now it’s where tourists flock to shop in the chic arcades, throw money at the colourful street artists and people watch from the pavement bars and cafes. When we lived in London, we’d bring our son here to explore the Transport Museum; it’s worth the visit if you have kids in tow.

Today, we are more interested in eating and drinking. We are lucky enough to bag a seat on the balcony of the famous Punch & Judy pub where we sip beer while watching the street performers below.

It’s almost time for dinner so we make our way back to the splendour of The Waldorf Hilton where we have based ourself for the weekend. Situated in the beating heart of the West End, it has an unrivaled location for a theatre break. Walk five minutes in any direction and you’ll find iconic shows such as The Woman In Black, Mousetrap, Mamma Mia! and many more.

We wash the day off and head back out again, first to the hotel’s Good Godfrey’s bar for cocktail hour. The lighting is low as smartly dressed barmen shake drinks behind a gorgeous mahogany bar. I’m inspired to order a 1920s, a warming combination of whisky, maraschino liqueur and sweet vermouth. Gav has an Old Fashioned.

Dinner is booked for 8pm at St Martin’s House, not far from the hotel. The menu majors on British cuisine, made with locally sourced ingredients.The food here is excellent and the staff are friendly and efficient, despite it being busy. We both have steak with truffle and Parmesan chips which are perfectly cooked.

It’s been a long day so we are happy to return to the cosy glamour of the Good Godfrey for a night cap.

The next morning we just have time for breakfast in the Waldorf’s Homage restaurant before catching our train home. The room is grand, with crystal chandeliers and ornate white cornicing that looks like it belongs on a fancy wedding cake. The buffet has an endless selection of dishes, from sausages, bacon and eggs to smoked salmon, delicious pastries, fresh juices and even Cava. I usually only drink breakfast bubbles on Christmas Day but we can’t resist raising a toast to a wonderful weekend.


The Play That Goes wrong was written by three friends – Henry Lewis, Henry Shields, and Jonathan Sayer – in just four weeks. In every performance characters get struck with an object, or each other, 19 times.

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