Whether you’re looking to perform, learn new skills or broaden your cultural horizons, there’s an abundance of theatres and venues for you to do so in London. Of course, the West End always has high quality shows whatever time of the year you’re planning to get tickets, with listings stuffed to the brim with celebrity actors and fantastic musicals. But if you’re looking for something a little more off the grid then fringe venues and unusual theatre settings always make for unmissable viewing. This guide to London’s less well known theatrical venues will help you to explore the city around you, whilst taking in some of the best performances available.
Located in a Grade II converted Edwardian Church in Highgate, Jacksons is a forward thinking and dynamic cultural venue. The listings run year long, with both a 167 seat theatre and an 80 capacity dance studio at the disclosure of troupes from around the world. Not only does the theatre produce excellent shows, but it also works to promote full engagement with the arts for all in the community.
The Old Vic
Having first opened its doors in 1818, The Old Vic has supported and benefited from an impressive roster of performers over the years. Laurence Olivier transformed the Theatre into the first home of the National Theatre and it was, until very recently, managed by Kevin Spacey. With a wide range of shows available and an ethos of affordability, this is a must visit.
Tucked away beneath Waterloo station, on an industrial approach road that isn’t always noted on the maps, the Network Theatre truly is a secret venue. When finding your way to the theatre for the first time, there’s a big chance that you’ll begin to feel as if you’re heading in the wrong direction, as lorries drop off produce around you However, once inside this hidden gem is a black box studio, with seating and stage changeable according to the whims of the production.The venue has its own production company but features other troupes, too.
One of the smallest theatres in London, Etcetera Theatre is also hailed as one of match.com’s Top 10 Theatres in London, which is always useful to know. With just 42 seats in a cosy space located above a Camden pub, the company has been home to some of the most innovative fringe theatre and comedy performances since 1986. It’s also the founding venue of the Camden Fringe, home to the London Horror Festival, creator of the Black Box Festival and host to a preview season of the Edinburgh Fringe season. As a big celebrator of every level of performance, this venue is well getting tickets for.
The Hen and Chickens Theatre
The Hen and Chickens Theatre was established over 25 years ago and has hosted every level of performer, from upcoming theatre groups to the likes of Jimmy Carr and Russell Brand. Hosted above the Victorian era pub of the same name in Highbury, the venue is intimate, with just 54 seats in a black box style performance area. The shows held here tend to be of the lighthearted variety though the principal intention is that support is provided for striving performers. The resident production company is called Unrestricted View, which is run for and by actors and has been doing so for over fifteen years.
The Southwark Playhouse has a strong emphasis on introducing young people local to the company to the possibilities of great drama, and teaching them how theatre skills can benefit their overall learning. The theatre program that they have aims to showcase the work of some of the UK’s best upcoming talent. It also engages with over 5,000 school pupils through free in-school performances and long-term curriculum support. There are two spaces in which performances are held, with the overarching aim of the Playhouse being to tell and inspire stories in all.
Cutty Sark Theatre and Lates
By day a tourist attraction, by night an exciting and unique new venue home to a range of performances across all categories. The Cutty Sark is the world’s last surviving 19th century tea-clipper, situated on a dry dock in King William Walk in Greenwich. At night the tea hold is transformed from a space stocked to the brim with tea-chests and historically appropriate artefacts to an 85 seat studio theatre. Titled The Michael Edwards Studio Theatre after the trustee who inspired the project, it is the perfect platform for performances and well worth a visit.
Begun by a troupe of Cypriot actors in 1957, the first home of Theatro Technis was in a garage in the working district of Camden Town and was begun as a mark of passion for the art. It’s original aim was to meet the needs of the local community via cultural theatres and educational activities which incorporated both the Cypriot and host communities. In 1978 the theatre moved to an old church house which is where it is still located now. Now one of the leading international and European fringe theatres in London, it stages in house drama, welcomes contemporary work and talent and has a particular expertise in ancient Greek Drama.
Have we missed out a secret theatre you think should be on this list? Let us know in the comments section.