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Glasgow used to have theatres aplenty, but the modern age of TV was a curse on theatre attendance in Glasgow, as in many other cities across the UK. Nowadays only 4 of these theatres remain in Glasgow, the Kings, Theatre Royal, Pavillion and the Citizens. I'd say the King's is the mid-market theatre of these four, pulling in most touring productions.
The theatre itself opened in 1904, and is now owned by Glasgow City Council, although it is leased to the Ambassador Theatre Group (ATG). The theatre is located to the west of the city centre, easily within walking distance of all the main city centre hotels and train stations. There's s multi storey car park behind the theatre if your travelling by car, and it's a flat rate of £1.50 after 6pm.
From the exterior, the theatre is quite small and inconspicuous but once inside the grandeur of the theatre takes your breath away. The public areas such as the entrance lobby and the bars are small and often crowded but once you are seated, take a look at the spectacular, highly decorative ceiling, and take a moment to appreciate the history of this fantastic building.
Being over 100 years old, the facilities aren't the most up to date; for example there are no lifts, so if your not seated in the stalls, be prepared for a climb! ATG have an ongoing refurbishment programme at this venue, such as recently improved seating, however I often find that theatre seats are far from comfy, and the legroom is often poor. The Kings Theatre is no exception to this!
The staff at the front of the house are always friendly, checking tickets and directing patrons to the correct areas.
When at the King's, we always go for stalls seats, so I'm not sure what the facilities are like upstairs, but the stalls toilets do leave a lot to desire, and are in urgent need of refurb.
At the interval, there are the usual ice-cream sellers, who also often have wine and water for sale, although other drinks can be obtained from the bars.
Over the last few years I've saw a great selection of shows including Cats, West Side Story, Evita, Sister Act, Avenue Q, All New People, I Dreamed A Dream, Whistle Down the Wind, The Steamie, Tell Me on a Sunday and many more, with Wicked, Shrek, Swan Lake and One Man, Two Guvnors coming over the next year.
Tickets for shows at the Kings Theatre can be obtained at the theatre's box office, or through the ATG booking website (www.atgtickets.com).
Overall, a great venue though it does need some work to modernise its facilities.
The King's Theatre is found at Bath Street (near Charing Cross) and is one of Glasgow's most famous venues. Glasgow, as a whole, is quite well provided with theatre and entertainment venues. From the Royal Concert Hall to the Theatre Royal to the SECC as well as many other, smaller venues in between, there is always somewhere to go to catch a show. Each theatre has its own character and tends to cater towards a specific audience: the Royal Concert hall tends to show a lot of orchestras and has a close knit relationship with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra whereas the Theatre Royal tends to play a lot of ballet. The King's, however, tends to focus more on musicals touring the UK.
I have fond childhood memories of the King's as I used to go there with my Girl Guides to see the panto every year (as well as stand at the stage door hoping to catch a glimpse or get a kiss off one of the actors at the end). Ah, the joy of youth! I also went to a lot of musicals here as a youngster but hadn't been back in quite a few years until last night's visit to see Spamalot.
The King's opened in 1904 and is still going strong. It is now operated by the Ambassador Theatre Group and has been since 2002.
Parking and Access
It is, from the outside, at least, a relatively small theatre but its central location makes it very easy to access via public transport. Just behind it there is a public car park with swipe card entry so you know that your car will be secure there. From 6pm onwards, there is a flat rate fee of £1.50 for overnight parking so if you're going to see a show and are arriving after 6, that's all you'll have to pay. Bargain!
I wasn't with a disabled person when I visited yesterday so didn't experience access problems first hand but I would imagine that it would be impossible to access any of the upper levels with a wheelchair. It is, as I said, a rather old theatre and I certainly didn't see any lifts. I would imagine that disabled visitors would need to be seated in the stalls.
The King's Experience
If you enter through the main door, I doubt that you'll be overwhelmed. It isn't a particularly grand atrium when you enter. It is pretty small and relatively dingy. In contrast, when you enter the Edinburgh Playhouse, you feel like you're having a special night out from the minute you enter the door. However, the staff at the King's are very friendly and you feel very welcome.
Last night, we were seated in the stalls. Our show started at 7.30 but we arrived early as we were driving there and had left a bit early in case of traffic. We ended up walking in about 6.40 so we had plenty of time to kill. The doors were open but the bar wasn't open yet and since there was nothing else to do to kill time, we crossed over the road and went to a cafe for a coffee before returning just after 7. The woman who took our ticket told us where to go but said that the doors to the theatre weren't quite open yet. Since it is a small atrium and then the corridor to the theatre from the atrium is relatively small and thin, it was a little bit cramped and busy with people waiting to get into the theatre. Luckily, the doors opened after a few minutes and we took our seats.
There were plenty of people selling programmes for £4 a piece and they were cheerful and helpful. At the intermission, there were, of course, the mandatory ice cream sellers (£2.50 a tub for Beechdean's ice cream or £3 a tub for a small Haagan Dazs).
Considering it was built in 1904, this theatre is laid out in the way you might expect. It isn't modern at all but the old fashioned style of theatre with the red, covered seating and the thick red velvet curtains covering the stage with viewing boxes at the side of the stage. I happen to quite like old fashioned theatres like this better than more modern ones (I feel like they are more atmospheric) but the King's is showing its age a bit. It has recently underwent restoration, apparently, with stalls seating being replaced but I can't honestly say I noticed much of a difference personally.
The one big niggle about the King's is the amount of leg room. Even in the stalls, the seats feel quite cramped. You are shoulder to shoulder with the people next to you but at least you have some degree of legroom in the stalls. Upstairs, however, it is very tight and actually quite uncomfortable. Considering I am only 5 foot and don't exactly need much leg room, I hate to think how uncomfortable it must be for anyone a bit taller. I have also been to see some shows where I was sitting in the gods and the view of the stage was actually obscured quite badly for people in the gods. When I went to see Jesus Christ Superstar, for example, quite a bit of the action happened on a platform that ran across near the top of the stage and if you were in some of the higher seats, all you could possibly see was some feet!
Also, each tier of seats doesn't seem to be raised enough. As I say, I'm only a little one at 5 foot so going to the theatre is always a bit of a trial if you end up with a 6 footer sitting in front of you but most theatres are laid out well enough that even if that happens, your view isn't obscured too much but last night I had a relatively short woman sitting in front of me and I still couldn't see over her head.
Is it worth it?
It is certainly handy for me as I live nearer Glasgow than Edinburgh but I would be reluctant to part with money to go to the King's if I was anywhere other than the stalls due to the discomfort of the upper levels. Last night's tickets weren't particularly cheap, either, although I suppose this varies from show to show. The staff are very friendly and helpful, though, which is a bonus but it definately isn't a particularly decadent theatre and doesn't feel as special as other theatres nearby.
King's Theatre was opened in 1904 and designed by Frank Matcham. The theatre is owned by Glasgow City Council though ran by Ambassador Theatre Group. Restoration of the stalls and grand circle was completed in 2009.
The King's is located in the Charing Cross area of Glasgow. The red sandstone building is located at the far end of Bath Street. The nearest train station is Charing Cross which is a few hundred yards from the main entrance of the theatre. There is no immediate parking at the theatre but drop off is recommended. Buses 42, 57 and 18 run from Sauchiehall Street and stop at the theatre.
0844 871 7648
Guide dogs are welcome and the theatre welcomes disabled visitors. The theatre can hold over 1700 visitors and seating is arranged in individual stalls, grand circle, upper circle and the gallery with disabled seating at the front. Group bookings are welcome.
King's Theatre offers various shows, pantomines and performances throughout the year. The most popular shows are the pantomimes (Sleeping Beauty and Beauty and the Best are scheduled for 2011). The theatre offers performances for adults only, families etc and there is something for everyone. It is recommended that you book tickets in advance. Performances are currently listed up until April 2012.
Booking can be done through www.atgtickets.com. Each performance may be an one off or there may be regular performances throughout that day or across a time period. The box office telephone number is shown in the contact information above and tickets can be collected at the entrance to the theatre. The price you pay for tickets will depend on what the performance is, where you want to sit and what time (peak/weekend etc) you want to visit.
Current performances and scheduled performances include but are not limited to :
*Dirty Dancing - the first tour : 19th Oct - 12th November. Various performances with premium seating at nearly £80.00.
*Sleeping Beauty - one for the families : 2nd Dec - 8th January. Afternoon and evening performances. Approx £26.00 with a few pounds deduction for children.
It is worth noting a booking charge is added to each ticket and is approx £1.25 per ticket. Major debit and credit cards are accepted. As well as pantomime and shows, performances from individual performers can be booked with the current schedule including Micky Flannigan, Dorothy Paul and Stewart Lee.
I wouldn't say I am a massive fan of the theatre but pantomime trips at school were always enjoyable. Having visited King's Theatre as a child, I was quite excited about taking my son earlier in the year. We went for a Thomas the Tank performance. I booked my tickets through the booking website and received confirmation. I paid by debit card and on arrival, I only had to give my name and was presented with our tickets.
I underestimated how far this theatre was from Central Station. Visiting on a cold, windy and very wet night, we weren't anticipating such a long walk. Luckily Ryan was in the buggy but we were like drowned rats! We knew where Bath Street was but we kept walking and walking fearing we had missed it. Near enough at the Hilton, we finally spotted it. Not ideal in the dark to be honest as it isn't very well lit up. On our arrival, the theatre was dangerously busy. I'm sure normal performances would allow for better organisation but with excited toddlers, buggies and parents trying to get sorted, it was mayhem! We were directed to a room to place our folded buggy in and got our tickets.
~Layout and Staff~
The building is simply beautiful inside and out. It is large, old fashioned and has an amazing, historical feel. The staff were pleasant from the booking office to the ticket checkers and were dressed smartly. They acted professionally at all times despite having hundreds of toddlers running around! As we were to be seated in the grand circle, we had to go up a few flights of stairs. The carpeted areas were very grand and decorated with posters of upcoming shows.
The foyer could have been better arranged. There was a stall offering various Thomas merchandise at overinflated prices. We bought a light up stick and programme coming to an eyewatering £12.00. They were also offering a wide range of sweets and juice at extortionate prices. I can only assume this happens with many shows but more emphasis when children are involved. Luckily our son didn't appear too greedy! The downstairs area is quite cramped but as far as I am aware, disabled visitors are taken in through a ground floor door as are those sitting near the stage.
The auditorium is very grand and everything you would expect a theatre to be. Red seating (we had 3 seats together), gold trim around the walls. Everywhere was very clean and the different seating options are raised. We had corner seats which weren't ideal but good enough. I wasn't prepared to pay a premium to be down the front to be honest. The grand circle is quite large and extends around the top of the auditorium. There are 2 entrances to this area. I am glad we weren't right at the front as it is high up and rather daunting looking down!
The layout of the auditorium is pretty standard. The stage is of course located at the front and is large, floored and hidden behind large red curtains. It can be viewed from every angle giving everyone a chance. When the lights dim, the auditorium becomes quite dark which can be scary for young children. Of course every show is different but we had an excellent time at Thomas. It was very interactive, loud thanks to the speakers dotted around and bright. The performance was top class though not the best I have ever been too. My son thoroughly enjoyed it though despite being tired by the end. We were told off about taking pictures though as I didn't notice the sign. As far as I'm concerned, given the fact we paid over £50 to come here, we should be allow to take pictures!
~Time For A Break~
Many of the shows have intervals and I was happy Thomas did (approx half way through). Many had brought treats in with them though we hadn't. Ushers were selling small tubs of ice cream in the auditorium for around £2.50 which is far too much. A small hole in wall (literally) offered packs of sweets and juice. I bought a pack of Minstrels and Pringles costing £4.00. We went back and got a can of Irn Bru and a large Fruit Shoot coming to over £3.00. Expensive isn't the word and no sign of Milky Bars! This area did get very busy during the 15min break.
I visited the ladies loos. They are dotted around the theatre and there were 4 upstairs. They were clean but old fashioned and with the amount of children and adults at the time, there was far from enough. On leaving, we made our way back downstairs and eventually got our buggy before heading home..in the dark and rain!
Booking was simple but I grudged paying more for myself and fiance than my son considering the show. Looking at the choice of shows, there are plenty but the price jumps are very high with some being near the £100 mark. Add on your transport, munchies and dinner and you have yourself one very expensive night or day out. Like I said, every show is different and we will return in future. I was supposed to book for Dirty Dancing as I think that would be an amazing show but we hope it will return. I am considering the pantomime though as a treat for my 5yr old niece as she would love that.
A stunning, clean and well thought out theatre just don't expect to leave with much money!
Thanks for reading :)