So, one of my very favourite theatres to take in a tour at is the Birmingham Hippodrome - I've been there for Cats, Top Hat, Annie and Mary Poppins on multiple occasions and I will be heading back there to see Mamma Mia! in August. I actually really love planning visits there as, when you just know a few little secrets, it's all so simple and smooth, especially for anyone coming from other places in the Midlands. So I thought I would share some of my favourite hints and tips for a daytrip (or overnight stay) in Birmingham to take in a show and perhaps even head around to the stage door afterwards. If you have an upcoming trip to the theatre and/or stage door at the Birmingham Hippodrome, take a look!
The front of the theatre is in beautiful bright glass and includes a large, brightly-lit sign with the theatre's name on as well as a screen which shows adverts and clips for whatever show is in situ there at the time. The staff, from the ushers and box office staff through to the doormen are also super-helpful and everything you could possibly need is clearly signposted once you get through the doors.
Inside the theatre's auditorium is simply beautiful, and the Hippodrome does a wonderful job of combining all the magic and beauty of a traditional, decorative theatre auditorium with modern comforts and technologies, which makes the space special to be in, but also extremely practical for both the audiences and the shows. Wherever you sit in the Hippodrome, you are pretty much guaranteed a good view of the stage whilst also being really comfortable. The seats are stepped going back through the auditorium, and as short as I am, I have still never had a problem seeing the stage wherever I've been sitting in this theatre - the stalls are especially impressive for this as very few theatres have as many seats with an excellent view in the rear stalls as the Hippodrome does. Another great thing about the Hippodrome's auditorium is its wide aisles and the way in which its seats are blocked into sections to the left and right of the stalls - this gives you a little space and breathing room getting in and out, and makes exiting the auditorium that little bit easier, and it also means that if you find yourself on the front row of the stalls you still have good legroom and you don't end up feeling penned in by the orchestra pit the way you sometimes do in older or smaller auditoriums. When booking tickets, if you know someone in the show or if you're just a fan of a really great spot to see all the action up close, then some of the best seats, I've found, are those at the very end of rows A - D in the stalls - they stick out a little and therefore are listed as restricted view on the Hippodrome's online booking system (something which is denoted by a star symbol instead of a circle like the other seats) which means you do miss the odd moment towards the back of the stage but your ticket is a little cheaper, and if you seeing a show like Cats you will be all the more visible to the cast as they come through the auditorium in an excellent spot to get a little Jellicle interaction! Ticket prices of course vary from show to show and depend on what seat you choose, but the Hippodrome's prices are always extremely good value for money when you take the show, the venue and the overall experience all into account, and they also offer a range of concession prices too. For a more comprehensive guide to the theatre itself and to check out the view from different seats take a look at the Hippodrome's really easy to use and helpful website: http://www.birminghamhippodrome.com
Just beyond the 'Reception' doors you will see an almost identical set of glass doors with a small blue sign (this is lit up at night) which says 'Stage Door' - that's where you want to be. It really is that simple! Being a glass-fronted stage door, it's always even easier to find at night as it is the most brightly lit part of that street, and there will probably also already be a lot of people coming and going through the door by the time you leave the theatre after a show. Another advantage of the glass-fronted doors at the Hippodrome is that it means you can see people coming, giving you a bit of extra time to figure out who is who if you are going to see a show for the first time. And if you're waiting for someone you know? Even better, you get an early warning when they're coming, and you can even wave to them before they sign out, just to make extra-sure they don't walk away too fast when they come out of stage door!
However, being in a city like Birmingham also means you are not short of options for where to get a bite to eat before an evening show or before or after a matinee. The Bullring is so close by that chain restaurants and cafes are of course a good option if that's your preference or if you're in a rush, but there's also a good selection of restaurants in the immediate vicinity of the theatre, including a great bar and restaurant called The Green Room which is actually directly opposite the theatre's main entrance - sitting outside there before a show in summer is a real treat especially. Another favourite of mine is the Milano Ristorante Italiano, whose food is absolutely delicious and whose atmosphere is really nice and friendly. Another great thing about the Milano restaurant is that they open for dinner at 5pm, so you won't be in a panic about having to rush your meal and can eat and relax and enjoy yourself without constantly glancing at your watch. You can find the Milano restaurant by heading for the Arcadian complex or by going past The Green Room down Theatre Walk, where you'll find the restaurant to your left as you come out into the area of the Arcadian.
There are plenty of other options for dining in and around the theatre, but you should always make sure the staff are aware you are going to the theatre if you think you might be cutting it fine for time. Most restaurants close to the theatre are more than geared up for turning tables around quickly before an evening show and a lot of them also offer special pre-theatre dining menus, set menus and special offers too.
Birmingham New Street Station is so well connected to so many stations up and down the country, and it's absolutely perfectly placed for getting to the theatre - there's even a couple of hotels within walking distance if you choose to stay the night. The Bullring is also right outside one of the station's main exits, which makes for a great shortcut for getting across to where the theatre is. Although the trains do run late from New Street, whether or not there's a train you can make after a show depends on where it is you need to get back to, and also whether or not you are going to stage door, and if you do go to stage door how long you expect to be there for. My advice would be to go for it and stay the night, make a proper trip out of the experience and make the most of how well connected the station is, but if you'd rather get back that night then you should make sure to check exactly how long it takes you to walk from the station to the theatre and allow yourself plenty of time to make it, even if it means leaving stage door before you've seen anyone.
The great thing about the ibis is that the prices are reasonable, you know exactly what you're going to get, it's clean, friendly, with free wifi and a restaurant and bar and everything about it is just nice, easy and predictable - as you'd expect from a big chain, and there is in face also a Travel Lodge close by if you prefer. However, what really makes the ibis perfect is its location: it's more or less half way between the station and the theatre, you can walk to the theatre in two minutes (at most!), you're close to the Bull Ring (a five minute walk, and that's only because of waiting for the lights to change at the crossing!) so you can have fun shopping during the day, make it back to your room in plenty of time to get ready and still have time to get some food and walk up to the theatre, and you also don't have to endure a long walk back on your way back from the stage door.
Birmingham is a very friendly, fun place to be, and the atmosphere around the theatre is honestly one of my favourite things about my trips to shows there; there's just a nice feel about the place and, since everything is so well connected up, it makes things feel fun, easy and relaxing and takes out a lot of the stress of going away for a show. If you get the chance to catch a show in the beautiful Hippodrome, then leap at it and take in every detail! Especially if you're lucky enough to be there on a peaceful, late-summer's day as some of my favourite theatre memories ever have been spent, walking up to the Hippodrome, ticket in hand, enjoying some lovely evening sun.