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The London Coliseum

Home > London > Theatre | Opera | Music | Food and Wine
by Bastion Harrison (subscribe)
Freelance writer and poet from London; if you would like to read my poetry, please check out my book, 'Poems on the Page', available from
Published June 9th 2013
Grand Architecture, Grand Performances
lodon coliseum, auditorium
The Auditorium

If you live in the capital and love the opera, then the London Coliseum is the place to go. With over two thousand three hundred seats, it is London's largest theatre, and is a work of architectural genius. Built by Frank Matcham for Oswald Stoll in 1904, it was originally intended for variety theatre. During the Second War, the theatre was used as a canteen for the Air Raid Patrol Services, and after that showed many American musicals. Between 1961-1968 the London Coliseum became a cinema, until it was finally bought by the English National Opera in 1974. ENO stages more new productions and contemporary operas than any other UK company; it also shows ballet, and provides guided tours of the theatre.

Just recently, my parents and I attended our first opera, and what better place to go than a world class opera house? My expectations were high, but by the end of the night, I was left with mixed feelings.

You can book tickets online or by calling 44 (0) 20 7845 9300. The transaction fee for booking by telephone is a hefty 3.50, so I decided to book online, which had a transaction fee of 1.75. I also decided to print off my tickets simply because the opera was only a few days away and it takes about ten days for them to be sent by post. Alternatively you can pick them up on the night.

Since I did not know what the seating would like, and because I'm a spend thrift, I bought the cheapest tickets in the balcony. For The Perfect American that was 19, but depending on what production you see, it can vary between 10-25. Seats in the upper circle through to the stalls vary between 10-99.

london coliseum

On arrival, we entered a lavishly red foyer and were directed to the top floor. The last time I booked balcony seats for the theatre, I had to walk up at least half a dozen flights of steep stairs, but surprisingly (and to our relief), there weren't that many, and it was a gentle elevation.

Because a night out is not a night out for my dad unless he has a drink, he wanted to go to the restaurant before we went in. This was not possible, however, because you have to pre-order from their expensive menu. Starters & desserts cost between 8.25-9.50, while mains are 17.75-19. Instead we went up to the bar outside the balcony and ordered some extortionately priced wine, which costs between 5.60-13 a glass or 19.50-170 a bottle. For those prices you would expect the wine to be pretty good wouldn't you? My mum's exact word to describe it was 'atrocious'. She first ordered a Pinot Grigio, but it was so bad that she had to take it back. My dad ordered a Rioja, but he said that the homemade wine that his friend makes tastes better.

Other things I recommend you avoid wasting your money on is a 6 programme and a pair of 5 binoculars. I did not buy either, but I could see by peering over someone's shoulders that what was in the programme was pretty much the same information that you could find on the website.

The opera was meant to start at 7.30pm, but due to a technical error, it began ten minutes late. Well okay, these things happen, but two false fire alarms going off was annoying.

london coliseum, auditorium, lions, god
Which god is this?

I put that all behind me when we entered the auditorium. It looked absolutely stunning. Keeping in theme with the name, the auditorium was dressed to resemble Rome: royal purple curtains, white stone carvings, and statues of gods. Quite which god rode a chariot drawn by lions, I'm not sure. At first I thought it was Apollo, but his chariot is drawn by horses.

london coliseum, auditorium,

Everything is incredibly detailed, and you need to look twice to take everything in. There were bits and pieces that you don't notice at first, such as the sculpted heads and stained glass on the ceiling.

london coliseum, auditorium, balcony
View from the balcony.

Even from the balcony, you a good view of the stage, and binoculars are not necessary. From where I was sitting the right hand side was slightly obscured by the railing, and the back screen projector is not fully visible, but it does not really hinder your enjoyment of the show. When it came to the seats, it was a bit like being on a high chair, and you are forced to sit up straight. Good for the posture? Yes. Comfortable to sit on for two or more hours? No.

The seats in the upper and dress circles looked a lot better as you are able to sit back in them, and in the private stalls you get proper high back dinning chairs with a table.

When rating my experience, I would say that all the basics were there and up to a good standard, but when it comes to the extras like the wine, you are being royally cheated.
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Why? To see opera & ballet
Phone: 44 (0) 20 7845 9300
Where: Charing Cross
Cost: Performances 10-99, tours 10
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