On my recent trip to London, my flatmate and I went to see The Woman in Black which now has its home at the Fortune Theatre. I haven't been to that many shows in London so my experience of theatres here is a bit limited.
== Location ==
The Fortune Theatre is located on Russell Street in Covent Garden. The easiest way to get to the theatre is to get the tube to the Covent Garden stop and take a quick walk through the shops. There are maps all around Covent Garden so you will be able to follow these easily in order to find the theatre. The theatre is also a short walk away from the Holborn stop on the tube. The theatre is in a lovely area, very close to the theatre playing Shrek at the minute.
== Appearances ==
As I said, The Fortune Theatre is very close to the theatre which plays Shrek. This theatre is quite grand looking with an amazing and impressive looking entrance. The Fortune Theatre does not have this. On first appearances, the theatre looks quite run down in comparison to others in the West End and honestly, looked like a complete dive. Outside the theatre are small banners hung on the walls advertising The Woman in Black along with some quotes from reviews. The name of the theatre is also on the banners on the walls in red which stands out compared to all of the black there is surrounding it. The outside of the theatre is very plain looking compared with others and if I hadn't had tickets already, I probably wouldn't have looked twice at it.
== Inside ==
As soon as you enter the theatre, the box office is on your right hand side. The box office is tiny and no one was working there when a member of staff opened the front doors for us. To the right are the different entrances to seating areas. As we had seats in the stalls, we were shown down a small set of stairs which seemed safe although they were extremely creaky and old sounding. In the waiting area for the stalls is a bar a small shop selling programs and sweets and further along, the toilets. The bar was small and only sold a limited selection of drinks which I did not buy.
The toilets were the worst part of the theatre for me. The ladies toilets are accessible through a door and then again, down a couple of stairs. I have no idea whether or not the theatre is accessible for wheelchair users on other levels but these toilets would not be ok for disabled ladies. Inside the toilet area, there is one sink and about enough space for one person to stand. If there is a queue, which there was, people have to stand up the steps and outside of the door, where there is not much extra space for people waiting. There are only two cubicles in the toilets and those were extremely small. Both my flatmate and I struggled to even get in the cubicle let alone move around a little bit in it. I know the theatre is quite old, as it opened in 1924, but I think it is in desperate need of some improvements.
== The theatre ==
Inside the theatre was much larger than I had expected it to be after experiencing the toilets. The stalls area was large and although we were in front row seats, it did not feel cramped at all due to adequate chair space. Above the stalls is the dress circle and even higher up is the upper circle. However, it is one of the smaller theatres in the West End only having roughly 400 seats. I didn't mind this though. As we were seeing The Woman in Black, I think the smaller theatre made it more intimate and scary due to spaces being more confined than in other theatres. The seats were very comfortable and had plenty of leg room which isn't something you normally get when going to see a show or a play. I had bags of shopping with me and I could still spread my legs a little bit.
The stage is, again, smaller than most. There were only two different kinds of scenery on the stage during the play, one being hidden for the most part by a curtain. However, the play did not need a large stage with lots of fancy props so I don't see this as a disadvantage. Some aspects of the stage and surrounding area did look as though it needed having some work done to it but considering the play again, this only made it more atmospheric. I'm not sure the theatre could cope with a more modern or bigger staging though.
== Overall ==
The Fortune Theatre is old and a bit worn out and could do with a bit of an overhaul. However, for the play we went to see, it was perfect. My only wish is that the toilets hadn't been so bad!
Hard though it is to separate the Fortune Theatre from it’s longest running production – The Woman in Black – which has been in residence for 12 years now, I‘m going to try! Located pretty much in the middle of the West End (Russell Street, Covent Garden) this theatre seems overshadowed by its much larger, plusher neighbors. It must be admitted that first impressions here are not exactly awe inspiring - everything looks a little cramped, a little run down. However, when you consider how it was built, tucked under and around an impressive Church of Scotland church, you may start to appreciate its ingenuity. Rather than ascending a grand staircase rising above a plush ticket office, you are ushered off to the side, down some stairs and into the bar. As far as I can work out, the Upper circle is at ground level, and everything else is buried beneath the church itself - very apt considering their most successful production is a ghost story. It's probably as well it is on a quiet road, as groups would defiantly need to rally outside, as once inside there's no room for a large group, except in their seats. The loos are tiny, but clean and actually a step up from various more impressive sounding venues. The bar is cosy, but not ludicrously overpriced, and the option of pre-ordering drinks for the interval speeds things along later in the evening. Souvenirs (sweatshirts, play texts etc) are available from a little cubby off the bar. Once into the main stalls area, things continue shabby, and a little close packed, but surprisingly comfortable for all that (although we did swap seats to make sure my long legged partner got the aisle seat.) I’ve been a lot less comfortable in far more modern and lavish surroundings! Ushers with trays of ice cream in the aisles at the interval may be old fashioned, but makes it feel like a Proper Theatre. The original design is late 20's, so there's a high peak of elegance and
grandeur to be fading, and the delightful Nouveaux style figure of Fortune at the top of the façade is worth looking out for. I’m not sure of it was the cosy nature of the surroundings, or the nature of he performance, but this has to be one of the friendliest London theatre I’ve ever visited – everyone from the staff to our fellow audience members were friendly and polite, and happy to strike up a conversation with a stranger at the interval. I didn’t explicitly check out disabled access, but there ought to be provisions for people with mobility problems, and the staff’s attitude was very much one of wanting to help, so I am confident that companion seats and the like would not be a problem. Ticket prices are towards the lower end of the West End scale, which considering the stature of the current cast makes it a real bargain. Even cheaper standby tickets were available on the door on the Thursday evening I attended, although the gentleman in the box office did mention that they sell out most Fridays. Being in the West End there are countless places to eat before or after the performance, on almost any budget. There’s even a lovely little park around the corner for an early evening picnic - coming from Covet Garden Market, continue past the theatre and turn left, and it’s on your left. Similarly, transport is not a problem, with several bus and underground stations nearby. All in all, the venue is a descent and welcoming theatre, and its slightly tatty elegance does create a great atmosphere.