Royal William Yard in Plymouth

The Theatre Royal in Plymouth is without doubt one of the city’s leading lights.  

We wouldn’t say it’s a good as London’s West End. We’d say it’s heaps better. Tickets are much cheaper, you don’t have to fight your way through the crowds to get to it and the huge variety of productions staged here is simply staggering.

We’ve heard certain arty London types, who keep their yachts moored at one of the city’s many marinas for use at the weekends, describe Plymouth as culturally challenged.

Have these people ever set foot inside the Theatre Royal?! It offers theatre lovers everything they could possibly wish for – from blockbuster musicals and the Birmingham Royal Ballet to brilliant brilliant home produced shows which have gone on to triumph in the West End and on Broadway.

Throughout the year we’re presented with a feast of opera, Shakespeare, dancing, drama, comedy and…even that rather alarming inter-active audience participation stuff where you’re expected to join in. Gulp!

The Theatre Royal has been a resounding success since it opened in 1982, earning itself a richly deserved reputation as one of the best producing theatres in the UK. The main auditorium seats 1,315 in the stalls, dress and upper circles. The smaller Drum Theatre in the same building caters for 200 with shows that tend to be more ‘alternative’, experimental…and in some cases downright weird!

One of the best shows we’ve seen in the Drum was The Girlfriend Experience, scripted entirely from edited conversations recorded in a brothel! The conversations were played back live to the actors via headphones during each performance. A rather bizarre stage technique, you might think, but it worked brilliantly in terms of encouraging the actors to say the words exactly as they were spoken originally, so creating a real fly-on-the-wall feel for the audience.

Producing smash hits for the West End and BroadwayTheatre Royal Plymouth - Drum Theatre

One of the great joys of our theatre is that one night it offers this kind of rather surreal experience and the next it’s wowing us with sell-out performances of Starlight Express or Flashdance. In fact, thanks to the juxtaposition of the Theatre Royal and the Drum you can even go from mainstream to ever so slightly mad theatre all on the same day!

Hugely successful shows have been produced here in Plymouth including Fame, South Pacific and Shadowlands. Many have gone on to the West End and continued on national and international tours. The Plymouth-produced version of the musical Buddy was enjoyed by more than five million theatre goers all over the world.

When Cameron Mackintosh, one of the world’s most successful theatre producers, chose Plymouth as the launching pad for a national and international tour of Mary Poppins in 2008, he described the city as ‘practically perfect in every way’.

His enthusiasm was doubtless born out of the theatre team’s ability to create the most stunning costumes, sets and special effects at its TR2 education and production centre.

TR2 is a striking building alongside the River Plym, at the eastern edge of the city. Besides its cutting edge production work, the centre is also involved in some excellent projects designed to nurture a love of theatre among youngsters, people with special needs and those who generally feel excluded from what is often seen as an elitist past-time.

We have TR2 to thank for many truly spectacular sets, including the magical creations which explode on stage every Christmas when the Theatre Royal unfailingly produces one of the best and most elaborate pantomimes in the country. Some of the biggest stars in showbiz head for Plymouth during the panto season – oh yes they do!  Danny La Rue, Les Dawson, Des O’Connor and Roy Hudd are just a few of the mega stars who have combined some of the oldest routines in the book with some of the most dazzling sets to stunning effect over the years.

TR2 created the stunning set for the national tour of the new Mackintosh/Lloyd-Webber production of Phantom of the Opera which premiered in Plymouth in February 2012. OK, there were a few early glitches which led to the cancellation of the opening night but when it finally got going, audiences were blown aware by its sheer scale and magnificence. Once again, Plymouth managed to match - some might say surpass - all that the West End has to offer.

If you’re planning to move to Plymouth, or at least stay here for a few months, and you’re an avid theatre goer then it’s worth becoming a member of the Theatre Royal Applause Club (TRAC). It’s cheap to join and membership benefits include meeting some of the stars, priority booking, discounts and lectures by actors, directors and others involved in the theatre.
call the TRAC office on 01752 230495 or email

Behind the scenes visits to both the Theatre Royal and TR2 are available. Visit the Theatre Royal Plymouth web site for more details.

When a new production is being staged in Plymouth, sometimes audience members are invited to stay back after the show to share their thoughts and suggestions with the actors, writer and director so that any appropriate tweaks can be made before a revised version is tried out on West End audiences.

Educational toys and gift ideas for kids