Great Nights Out On the Cheap

Alternative London amusements

SG Buckley


Photo by Shuvro Mojumder on Unsplash

It’s Wednesday night. I could be anywhere, doing anything. I chose MimeFest. How did I get here?

It all started in 2019 when our friends took us to see Bitter Wheat, a play about Harvey Weinstein, starring John Malkovich.

I was excited to see Malkovich live, but what we got was an unfeeling, dead fish performance — like Weinstein himself — and a huge bill.

Before the long slog through Bitter Wheat, we ate at J. Sheekey, a good but pricy fish restaurant in Leicester Square. Assuming seeing Malkovich on stage was also expensive (our friends booked the tickets), I offered to pay for dinner, thinking that would make us even.

Wrong. The tickets were £400.

“That’s the total, and we owe half?” I asked.

Nope. That’s half the total. The tickets were £200 apiece.

I was miffed, but promised to pay. The next day I wrote to our friends to apologize for making a fuss. They graciously said the tickets were their treat. That’s when I had an idea.

I would repay my theater debt by taking them to as many shows as possible. The idea was to find affordable fun in London. I was sure it existed and it turns out I was right.

For our first night out, we went to “Bright Nights” at Kensington Palace. For the price of a starter at J. Sheekey, we drank champagne at the palace, heard a salon talk, and played silly board games with strangers.

Next, we went to an old-fashioned circus and ate dinner in a tent. We followed this with a play about a train crash at a theater under Waterloo station, and enjoyed cheap Mexican eats.

Three nights out later, I wasn’t even close to paying off the debt. More important than the money was the discovery that London offers a lot of fun at affordable prices.

Then Covid hit. Our nights went on hold. Until the other day. With Covid cases plateauing, I decided to restart my cheap culture repayment plan.

From my Internet search, MimeFest cried out. Cheap, weird, and we hadn’t been to the Barbican. I immediately wrote to our friends:



SG Buckley

Writer, editor, parent. Former staffer at Quartz, WSJ and Inc. magazine.