London’s theatre scene is amazing. From giant, long-running musicals to low-budget fringe productions that still knock your socks off, there’s something to keep everyone entertained. But how much do we really know about the theatres themselves? Fortunately the brilliant Neil from The West End Musical Theatre Walking Tour can help us find out more. We caught up with him to find out how he got where he is today:
“I first came up with the idea of starting a Musical Theatre walking tour just over a year ago and have been having fun entertaining audiences of all ages around the West End ever since. My main aim is always to inspire people about Musical Theatre with my passion, hopefully with them leaving having learned new things about this amazing art form and the theatres it is performed in.
I have been working as a singer/actor for over 15 years, starting out gigging in hotels in Bournemouth. I also spent a lot of time performing in local amateaur dramatics which I really enjoyed, but went on to hone my craft on a professional level as I really wanted to perform for a living. It was at this time that I went on to win two national singing competitions (one judged by Amanda Holden and Earl Carpenter), which spurred me on and gave me the confidence to pursue my dream in earnest.
I graduated about five years ago and have gone on to tour shows, and perform new work, all of which has been interesting, varied, and have helped me to grow as a performer.
However, as is often the case with performers, the work is transient and sporadic. A couple of years ago I got a job with a theatre company performing in character as Charles Dickens and a multitude of other characters, on a walking tour called The London Literary Pub Crawl. Having studied storytelling as part of my studies, I found this really appealed to me and I enjoyed the audience participation, immediacy, and reaction of this more intimate form of theatre.
This gave me the idea of starting a tour on a topic very dear to my heart and something I am very passionate about: Musical Theatre. I found that the only other tour that is similar is in New York, so I just had to put one on here in London’s West End! I think the most difficult task was choosing which theatres to talk about, as there are so many with interesting stories. After much agonising I came up with a list of theatres which would give the most diverse theatre history, incorporating both old and new musicals and performers/composers.
I chose to take on the character of Noel Coward to lead people around as he is relatively well-known, and has a strong connection with the West End having performed there, had his plays put on there, and been born nearby in Teddington. He is also an amiable character with a witty sense of humour which is good for the improvisational element of the tour.
Noel encounters a series of other people on the tour such as Michael Ball and Colm Wilkinson, which adds to the comic element of the tour to offset the slightly more serious historical element about the theatres themselves. It really is great fun to play so many characters and the audience (which sometimes ends up being added to by passers by) seem to love it as well.
Probably the most fun part for me and an implicit and integral part of my tour is the singing. I decided from the outset that I would want to sing a song, or part of a song at each theatre from a musical that was performed there. The audience is encouraged at the start of the tour to join in if they so wish (although there is no pressure put on this), which I am glad to say many have done with gusto! Sometimes even passers by join in!
Doing a tour on the streets is not without its challenges, noise from the traffic, people constantly walking by and the occasional heckler. I actually love these challenges, sometimes using them to my own advantage. I also love how each tour is different, audience members reacting to particular elements. I get to talk to people who are as passionate as I am, share our favourite musicals (mines Jeckyl &Hyde and Forty Second Street) and I get to learn Musical Theatre knowledge from others too.”
Are you a theatre lover? Perhaps you just want to learn more about a huge part of London’s history? Either way, we definitely recommend a tour with Neil (and/or Noel!). Book your tickets through Wonderush today. Don’t forget to let us know what you learn!