Simon Callow, the actor, reveals his pick of the most fascinating and beautiful theatres Britain has to offer.
1. Theatre Royal, Bath
This remarkable, early 19th-century horseshoe-shaped theatre features several oddities, including the structure of the front stalls which reflect its original pit arrangement, helping the actor feel connected to the audience and vice versa. I love that it is deeply embedded in the Bath community and always packed with locals.
Insider tip: Sit in the front of the stalls for the most intimate experience.
The best place to eat/drink: The Garrick’s Head (garricksheadpub.com; 01225 318368) is an historic, surprisingly warming and characterful pub and dining venue at the side of the theatre.
Details:theatreroyal.org.uk; 01225 448844
2. King’s Theatre, Edinburgh
Following its recent refurbishment, the venue is even more majestic and imposing than ever. The foyer is wonderfully ornate with a semi-art nouveau feel, adding to a sense of occasion and edginess you might not usually associate with Edinburgh.
Insider tip: Make time to frequent the coffee bars and boutiques in the area around the theatre beforehand, to absorb the almost bohemian atmosphere.
The best place to eat/drink: Let the show be the haute cuisine of your night and make your digestif a whisky at the sublime Bennets Bar (bennetsbaredinburgh.co.uk; 0131 229 5143) next door.
Details:edtheatres.com/kings; 0131 5296000
3. Theatre Royal, Newcastle
It’s dramatic, like the city it inhabits, set on a hillside plunging towards the Tyne. Theatres carry with them the sweat, toil and tears of all the performers and audiences that inhabit them, and here there’s no mistaking it.
Insider tip: Don’t deny yourself the pleasure of the circle, to look down on the stalls and get a sense of the whole theatre.
The best place to eat/drink: Just across the river at Six (sixbaltic.com; 0191 440 4948) at Baltic, a former flour mill converted into art galleries, topped by this rooftop restaurant with fabulous views and food.
Details:theatreroyal.co.uk; 0844 811 2121
4. Richmond Theatre, Surrey
It’s set by the Richmond Green cricket grounds. I don't care much for cricket but do love watching a game there. The elegant theatre has an out-of-town feel despite being just 20 minutes from Waterloo station.
Insider tip: Go on a Saturday and allow time to enjoy the Farmers Market (by Richmond Bridge, 11am-3pm) and incredible views across the Thames valley up the hill from the station.
The best place to eat/drink: At the marvellous wood-panelled dress circle bar, with its balcony overlooking Richmond Green.
Details:atgtickets.com/venues/richmond-theatre; 0844 871 7651
5. Palace Theatre, London
It’s a stupendous 19th-century playhouse and the ultimate home of West End musicals. The lavish interior was intended to encourage people to linger: in Victorian times you could send a telegram or postcard from here with a telegraph boy.
Insider tip: Stop to admire the Spanish Renaissance style exterior before slipping inside, most unusual because you can see the entire freestanding structure.
The best place to eat/drink: The Cambridge (nicholsonpubs.co.uk; 020 7494 0338), a proper English pub just next door.
Details: palacetheatrelondon.org; 0844 482 9676
6. London Coliseum, London
It’s the masterpiece architectural prodigy Frank Matcham - and my great grandfather worked there. An impresario, he assisted Oswald Stoll - the Australian-born British theatre director and the ‘king’ of music halls - in its creation. The Roman imagery, complete with chariots, does feel a like a scene from the Ben-Hur film, and can seem a bit kitsch, but it’s also exhilarating.
Insider tip: Sit further back than you usually would to get a sense of the theatre’s majesty.
The best place to eat/drink: The theatre’s wood-panelled Dutch bar always feels like a hidden gem but isn’t such a secret anymore.
Details:londoncoliseum.org; 020 7845 9300
7. Duke of York’s Theatre, London
It’s a charming little playhouse where Peter Pan was first performed in 1904. How exciting it must have been for children at the time to see the sheer spectacle of that grand show in a small theatre. It backs onto the Garrick and they both have magical little passages lined with Edwardian street lamps taking you to the stage door.
Insider tip: Originally there were real fireplaces in the auditorium - how incredible would that be to have now?
The best place to eat/drink: The new Terrace Bar there is said to be a nice spot for a cocktail.
Details: dukeofyorkstheatre.co.uk; 0844 871 7627
8. Noël Coward Theatre, London
For its sheer glamour. This was where Laurence Olivier played Richard III for the first time during the Second World War. It always electrified audiences and became a national theatre due to the number of important British plays it showcased. And the dressing rooms are impressively huge.
Insider tip: The Noël Coward room contains wonderfully reproduced photographs.
The best place to eat/drink: Sheekey’s (j-sheekey.co.uk; 020 7240 2565), next door, displays marvellous theatre photographs on its walls. Their service is impeccable and I’d cross continents for the sea bream.
Detalils:noelcowardtheatre.co.uk; 0844 482 5140
9. The Old Vic, London
It’s a people’s theatre and gives a real sense of what Victorian theatre was like while managing to still feel young, energetic and experimental.
Insider tip: I worked there in the box office during Olivier’s time and always sit in his favourite seats: Row O, 9 and 10.
The best place to eat/drink: Avoid the crowds in the downstairs bar. All the way along The Cut are splendid restaurants, such as the Anchor & Hope gastropub (anchorandhopepub.co.uk; 020 7928 9898).
Details:oldvictheatre.com; 0844 871 7628
10. Lyric Theatre, Belfast
It’s the most exciting newly rebuilt theatres in the world [which reopened back in 2011 following a £18million refurbishment], a striking structure made with natural materials from the banks of the river Lagan where it sits. The auditorium is angled in an interesting way and the stage is extraordinarily compelling by some trick of perspective.
Insider tip: Keep your eyes peeled for the Colin Davidson portraits in the foyer showcasing local figures and theatre types.
The best place to eat/drink: The Lyric Café Bar is perfectly enjoyable for drinks and dinner.
Details:lyrictheatre.co.uk; 028 9038 1081
Simon Callow will be speaking at the World's Most Exciting Cities talk event on September 27, hosted by The Platinum Card from American Express in association with 1843. For tickets and information, see excitingcities.1843magazine.com.
Interview by Lisa Pollen