The performing arts have an incredibly long-standing tradition in the United Kingdom, and over the centuries, the country has prided itself on the quality of its theatre. From London’s West End to the regional theatres of Scotland, England, and Wales, a plethora of theatrical excursions are on offer, which showcase the best of classic and modern theatre. We pick some of the venues that you have to visit.
National Theatre, London
Situated on the South Bank of the River Thames, the National Theatre has a reputation for producing some of the best theatre the UK has to offer. Housing the Olivier, Lyttelton and Cottesloe theatres under one roof, the varied programme offers a myriad of classic drama and new plays by contemporary playwrights, alongside a wonderful selection of bars and restaurants, exhibitions and a book shop. Since June 2009, the theatre has also begun a programme of live-production broadcasts to local cinemas, as well as to those further afield. National Theatre Live screens performances to over 1,000 venues in 35 countries, so those unable to make it to London have the opportunity to experience the best of British performing arts wherever they are.
Royal National Theatre, South Bank, London, United Kingdom, +44 20 7452 3000
Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester
The Royal Exchange Theatre has been hosting theatre productions since 1976 and is housed in one of Manchester’s most-beautiful buildings in the heart of the city centre. The theatre itself sports a stage ‘in-the-round’ and can seat an audience of up to 700, making it the largest theatre of its kind in Britain. Annually, the Royal Exchange gives an average of 350 performances and puts on a programme that intertwines the classic performance arts, revivals and contemporary writing. In addition, the adjoining studio also offers music concerts, readings and literary events that engage both children and adults alike.
Royal Exchange Theatre, St Anns Square, Manchester, United Kingdom, +44 161 833 9833
Festival Theatre Edinburgh, Edinburgh
Situated in the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town, the Festival Theatre Edinburgh stands on the site of the old Empire Theatre, dating back from 1830. The current location was opened in 1994 and today, the venue has one of the largest performance areas in Scotland, and is one of the UK’s most reputable arts centres. Used primarily for ballet and opera, as well as large-scale music events, it is also one of the major venues of the annual Edinburgh International Festival. Interestingly, the theatre is said to be haunted by a dark stranger, the famous illusionist Sigmund Neuberger, burnt to death at the Empire in a fire in 1911.
Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff
The Wales Millennium Centre is one of Wales’ top attractions, which stages a myriad of musicals, opera, ballet and contemporary dance performances. The venue boasts a 1,900 seat theatre, as well as a studio theatre, a dance house and orchestral hall. Since its opening, over 14 million visitors have graced the national arts centre – it comes as no surprise that it is repeatedly considered as one of the best theatres built in the last few decades. Those visiting Wales should pay a visit to a building that expresses the intrinsic ‘Welshness’ of the area; indeed, the building is designed with local materials dominating the nation’s history – slate, metal, wood and glass.
Wales Millennium Centre, Bute Place, Cardiff Bay, United Kingdom, +44 29 2063 6464
The Old Vic, London
Just outside Waterloo Station in London, the foundations of The Old Vic date back to 1818 when it was known as the Royal Coburg Theatre. Over the centuries, the venue’s name has been changed repeatedly, and the building was heavily damaged in the 1940 air raids. Since its new formation in 1976 under Laurence Olivier, the theatre has made up the core of the National Theatre of Great Britain. Since 2003, Kevin Spacey was appointed as the artistic director, and the company continues to awe audiences with its selection of classics and modern masterpieces.
The Old Vic, The Cut, London, United Kingdom, +44 844 871 7628
Citizen’s Theatre, Glasgow
The Citizen’s Theatre first opened as a performing arts center in 1878 and has been permanently established as a theatre since 1945. As the second-oldest operational theatre in the UK, it has a fascinating history and remains one of Scotland’s most important theatre venues. The building holds up to 500 visitors and has retained many of its Victorian architectural features. It offers a distinguished range of contemporary plays, classic drama and new Scottish writing. For those visiting Glasgow, the Citizen’s Theatre is an iconic attraction that is not to be missed.
The Citizen’s Theatre, 119 Gorbals Street, Glasgow, United Kingdom, +44 141 429 0022
Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford-upon-Avon
The Royal Shakespeare Company is arguably one of the most-famous theatre companies in the world. The ensemble connects audiences all over the world with the works of William Shakespeare, as well as with a wide-ranging selection of contemporary playwrights and actors. The company is mostly located in Stratford-upon-Avon, the place of Shakespeare’s birth, where performances are often accompanied by workshops and educational programmes. Each year, the RSC attracts over one million visitors to the heart of the Midlands, but also tours – performing the best of British theatre throughout the UK and across the world.
Theatre Royal, Bath
At over 200 years old, the Theatre Royal in Bath is one of England’s most reputable theatres with a seating capacity of over 900. The building itself dates from 1720 but the premises only became a theatre in 1805 and the venue remains a wonderful example of Georgian architecture. Alongside an extensive programme performed by touring troupes, the theatre also hosts several events each year, such as the Shakespeare Unplugged festival. As many productions begin their season at the Theatre Royal before their stints in London, it is well worth a visit. Yet be warned, the building itself is allegedly haunted by The Grey Lady, a former actress who watched productions from the stalls, leaving behind a distinctive scent of jasmine.
Theatre Royal Bath, Saw Close, Bath, United Kingdom, +44 1225 448844
Crucible Theatre, Sheffield
The Crucible Theatre opened in 1971 and is situated in the Sheffield city centre. Since its beginnings, it has adapted to be a renowned dance and musical performance stage, as well as a platform for classical and modern theatre. The layout of this particular theatre makes it one of the most interesting in England – the audience sits on three sides and each member is situated at most 20 metres from a performer. As a result, the 980-seater auditorium evokes an intimate relationship between the spectator and the stage, providing a particularly memorable experience. Interestingly, when it’s not hosting touring theatre productions, the theatre is a venue for the World Snooker Championship.
Crucible Theatre, 55 Norfolk Street, Sheffield, United Kingdom, +44 114 249 6000
The Globe, London
The Globe Theatre is perhaps one of England’s most famous theatres due to its close associations with the great William Shakespeare. The original theatre was built in 1588 by his theatre company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, but was tragically destroyed in a fire in 1613. Today, a modern reconstruction of the three-story open-air amphitheater stands approximately 230 metres from the original site. Today, the theatre is built entirely of English Oak and the attention to detail of the timber-framed building is incredibly striking. For lovers of Shakespeare, this is the place to go to experience the dramatic talent of one of the nation’s most famous playwrights.
The Globe, 21 New Globe Walk, Bankside, London, United Kingdom, +44 20 7902 1400