Join in one of the latest crazes globally: lunchtime disco.

In the subterranean St James theatre in central London, an enraptured audience watches two actors argue on stage against a backdrop of the Beverly Hills Hotel. This performance of Neil Simon’s two-part play, California Suite, is the latest lunch-hour show at the theatre. 

Though it’s only noon, the relaxed vibe soothes the business-attired audience members. Small candlelit tables are dotted around the room, where some drink water, some sip smoothies and some savour white wine. An added bonus? You can bring your own food. On one table, two women lap up the comedy to prawn and avocado wraps. On another, a man slurps soup.

The plays have proved such a popular lunch-hour escape that most performances sell out and the theatre now offers two sittings, noon and 13:00, each lasting an hour. At £8 ($13.40), they represent good value for London and are a perfect getaway from a busy work day. “We work in a government building around the corner, and I got the flier walking from the tube,” said Sue, an audience member sitting at a third table, who only gave her first name. “It was an excellent play and I shall definitely be back to see more. In fact we are booked to see the second part in this play.”

From make-up lessons, to concerts, cooking demos to raves, this play is just one of a new breed of lunch-hour diversions catering to office workers searching for a break beyond the bland.

Cook, eat and run

Across town in Wimpole Street, a group of eager students is learning how to make Thai beef salad at the L’Atelier des Chefs cooking school, which puts on 30-minute lunchtime cookery classes.

“I enjoyed it so much the first time I came back a second,” said Oliver Crawley, an asset manager who lives in Hammersmith and works in Victoria. “I have taken friends and colleagues. Once I made an Asian noodle dish, another time, steaks, I even enjoyed that with some red wine afterwards.”

For Crawley, it provides some respite in an otherwise hectic day. “The chefs introduce themselves and give a demo using various produce,” he said. “Then it is up to you to repeat under their watchful eye. Then you sit down, eat the dish and make new friends.”

Started in Paris in 2004 by brothers Nicolas and Francois Bergerault, L’Atelier des Chefs opened its London location in 2008, Dubai, in 2009. The next expansion will be to China in 2016. 

“I originally started this in Paris to bring back French people to the oven,” Francois Bergerault said. “I was worried that people had no time, and that they should not adapt their timetable to the cooking class, but the other way around.”

After the 30-minute class, students may leave if they need to get back to work, or they can eat the meal there. The cost: £15 ($25). For a few pounds extra you can add on wine or dessert.

Feeling pretty

In New York, take a one-hour make-up lesson at Pucker, which runs monthly sessions at lunch time. For $100 you can learn the tricks of the trade from a make-up artist. If you want someone else to do the work for you, show up for a daily lunch-time session. Pucker also offers “quickies,” or 25-minute make-up applications that leave you with enough time to get pampered and still pick up food on your way back to the office.

Boogie on down

To really let your hair down during your break, join in one of the latest crazes globally: lunchtime disco.

For an hour, you can dance to electro, hip hop or techno with wild abandon and have your lunch at the same time, mostly vegetarian and sometimes in buffet form. Lunch Beat, founded in Sweden in 2010 by Molly Range and run by Daniel Odelstad in Stockholm, is now in 55 cities, from Seoul to Salzburg, Bogata to Berlin (check each country’s Facebook page for dates). Prices range from 6 euro to 10 euro ($8.16 to $13.61) a head for lunch and a boogie. However, don’t plan on merely observing while you eat. It is very much a participation activity.

“If you don’t dance, you can go and have your lunch elsewhere,” Odelstad said. 

Midday music concerts have long been a New York tradition, but Europe is catching on. 

Music lovers with a yearning for some lunchtime culture should head to the Het Concert Gebouw in Amsterdam, which has an excellent programme of free lunchtime concerts each Wednesday from 12:30  to 13:00pm (except July and August).

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