Which historic British theaters offer behind-the-scenes tours?

You have undoubtedly experienced the enchantment of a theater performance, the tension and excitement in the atmosphere as the lights dim and the curtain lifts. Or perhaps you have marveled at the architectural grandeur of many of Britain's historic theaters, their ornate façades and plush interiors. But have you ever wondered about the magic that occurs behind-the-scenes? This article will transport you to the heart of the action, sharing the details of behind-the-scenes tours offered by some of Britain's most historic theaters.

London's Royal National Theatre

The Royal National Theatre in London, fondly referred to as 'The National,' is a British cultural institution that has been weaving stories since its foundation in 1963. With three separate auditoriums – the Olivier, the Lyttelton, and the Dorfman – The National offers a diverse range of productions throughout the year.

For those curious about the inner workings of one of the busiest performing arts complexes in the UK, The National offers an in-depth, behind-the-scenes tour. Led by experienced guides, visitors can observe the intricate process of set building in the theatre’s workshops and discover the complex logistics of coordinating multiple shows in different stages of production. The theater also offers an Access Backstage Tour, designed specifically for visitors with disabilities, ensuring the magic of theater is accessible to all.

The Old Vic Theatre

Another gem in London's theater scene is the Old Vic Theatre. With a history dating back to 1818, the Old Vic has seen the likes of Laurence Olivier, Judi Dench, and Kevin Spacey grace its stage. This iconic institution offers a peek behind the curtain with their 'The Old Vic Uncovered' tour.

Guided by knowledgeable theatre professionals, the tour navigates the 200-year-old building, sharing anecdotes about past productions and revealing the backstage secrets that contribute to the captivating performances. Visitors can explore the historic auditorium, the prop and costume departments, and even step onto the revered stage, following in the footsteps of acting greats.

The Theatre Royal Drury Lane

London's West End houses the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, one of the oldest and most prestigious theaters in Britain. Since 1663, this venue has been a cornerstone of British theater, hosting a plethora of famous plays and musicals.

The Theatre Royal Drury Lane offers guided tours that immerse visitors in its expansive 360-year history, from its origins in Restoration drama to its current status as a hub for world-class musicals. From wandering through the opulent Royal Retiring Room to standing in the Royal Box, visitors can truly feel the history of this grand establishment. The tour also unveils the fascinating stories of the theater's reputed ghosts, adding an element of intrigue to the experience.

The Royal Shakespeare Company

Venturing outside London, the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon provides visitors with a comprehensive insight into the world of Shakespearean drama. Established in 1961, this theatre is renowned worldwide for its interpretations of the Bard's works.

The Royal Shakespeare Company offers a variety of behind-the-scenes tours, each with a unique focus. The 'Page to Stage' tour familiarizes visitors with the process of bringing Shakespeare's plays to life, while the 'Theatre Tour' offers a general overview of the building and its history. For an in-depth experience, the 'Full Works' tour combines both, offering visitors the ultimate behind-the-scenes exploration.

The Royal Lyceum Theatre

Scotland's Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh, founded in 1883, is a superb example of Victorian architecture, coupled with a rich theatrical history. Famous for its annual production of 'A Christmas Carol,' the Lyceum has been a beacon of Scottish theatre for over a century.

The Lyceum offers regular backstage tours, giving visitors a chance to experience the theater from the perspective of the performers. Journey from the dressing rooms to the stage, learning about the theater's history, the complexities of staging a performance, and the many famous actors who have performed there. The Lyceum's tour promises a fascinating glimpse into the world of theater, from both historical and practical perspectives.

In summary, whether you're an avid theater enthusiast, a history buff, or simply curious about what happens behind the stage, these historic British theaters offer a unique opportunity to delve deep into the world of performing arts. Explore their hallowed halls, absorb their rich histories, and emerge with newfound appreciation for the remarkable world of theater. No final curtain call needed.

Bristol Old Vic

The Bristol Old Vic is one of the oldest continuously running theaters in the world. Established in 1766, it has been producing plays and cultivating talent for over two centuries. The theater has undergone several refurbishments and survived many challenges throughout its long history, but its commitment to producing excellent theatrical works has never wavered.

Behind the scenes, the Bristol Old Vic offers a 'Heritage Tour' that traces the theater's fascinating journey from its origin to the present. The tour covers the theater's Georgian auditorium, which is a masterpiece of 18th-century architecture, its modern foyer and backstage areas, and the ongoing efforts to conserve and enhance the theater for future generations. Visitors are also treated to an array of historical anecdotes and stories about the many famous names associated with the Bristol Old Vic, including Peter O'Toole, Daniel Day-Lewis and Greta Scacchi.

The Bristol Old Vic also offers 'Technical Tours' that focus more on the technical aspects of theater production, such as lighting, sound, and stage management. This tour is a rewarding experience for anyone interested in the behind-the-scenes magic that goes into each performance, offering a glimpse into the technical wizardry that makes theater so enthralling.

The Edinburgh Playhouse

The Edinburgh Playhouse, located in the heart of Scotland's capital, is a testament to the glamour of the early 20th-century cinema and variety era. Opened in 1929 as a cinema and variety theater, the Playhouse is now a venue for musicals, concerts and touring productions, boasting the largest capacity of any UK theater.

The Edinburgh Playhouse offers a 'Behind the Scenes Tour', which gives visitors an opportunity to explore this grand venue. The tour covers the auditorium, stage, and backstage areas, with knowledgeable guides sharing the rich history of the theater and its transition from a cinema to a versatile performing arts venue.

Visitors can learn about the theater’s Art Deco designs, its original Wurlitzer organ, and its legendary 'White Lady' ghost. The tour also covers the large-scale logistical operations involved in staging national and international productions, providing a fascinating insight into the professional world of theater.


In conclusion, these historic British theaters not only offer world-class performances but also provide fascinating behind-the-scenes tours. These tours allow visitors to delve into the backstage world, revealing the dedication, expertise, and creativity that goes into every theatrical production. They offer a unique opportunity to explore the architectural marvels, absorb the rich histories, and understand the practical aspects of staging a performance in these prestigious venues.

Whether you are an aspiring actor, a theater enthusiast or simply enjoy learning about history and architecture, these tours will surely enrich your understanding and appreciation of the performing arts. So next time you're in the UK, don't just attend a play, go behind the scenes and experience the magical world of theater in a whole new light.