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Internationally renowned as one of the theatre capitals of the world, London’s West End attracts thousands of travellers everyday / Pixabay
Internationally renowned as one of the theatre capitals of the world, London’s West End attracts thousands of travellers everyday / Pixabay
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New Voices and Iconic Stages: A Guide to London’s Best Off-West End Theatres

Picture of Andrew Kingsford-Smith
Updated: 4 April 2017
Internationally renowned as one of the theatre capitals of the world, London’s West End attracts thousands of travellers everyday to see musicals and larger than life productions. However, beyond ‘Theatreland’ there are hundreds of venues that are actively shaping the future of live performance. We look at ten of the best Off-West End theatres scattered across London who are hosting the productions of the future.

Tricycle Theatre

First opened in 1980, the Tricycle Theatre in Brent is North London’s home for political drama. Originally focusing on new plays and children’s theatre, the venue took a new direction in 1984 under the leadership of Nicolas Kent, producing both established works and new visions that scrutinise political issues. Today, the theatre still holds this ethos at its core as it presents plays by both UK and internationally acclaimed practitioners. The building also holds a cinema and impressive educational programmes for young and up and coming theatre makers.

Globe Theatre

A theatre that needs no introduction for Shakespeare aficionados, the Globe that sits on the banks of the River Themes is a reconstruction of the original structure which burnt down in 1613. Renowned as the stage that revealed Shakespeare’s greatest works, the bard was actually one of four actors who originally bought a share in this venue. Today audiences can enjoy the best interpretations of Shakespeare’s works as well as experience the authentic setting of the ‘yard’, allowing theatres goers to immerse themselves in history as they stand in the centre of this open air theatre.

National Theatre

Located on London’s South Bank, the National Theatre prides itself on tirelessly reaching out to wider audiences and offering unmatched theatrical experiences. An influential institution which has shaped the direction of British theatre, the National Theatre presents around 20 productions a year across its three venues, featuring both new works and renowned masterpieces, locally and internationally written. The repertoire aims to be in a constant dialogue with British culture, reflecting current trends and past traditions, while also looking to the future of the British stage. Their educational and youth services further display their dedication to the longevity and popularity of theatre as an art form.

Royal Court Theatre

Described by the New York Times as ‘the most important theatre in Europe’, the Royal Court Theatre is dedicated to new work by both international and British theatre makers. The theatre has a history dating back to the 19th century and is now based in two venues in Sloane Square. The Royal Court is a pivotal institution for young voices in the UK, hosting a range of programmes and events that not only aim to promote and improve young talent, but also act as key opportunities for larger institutions to discover tomorrow’s great playwrights.

Young Vic

The history of the Young Vic highlights the cultural weight this institution holds; spawning from two of the biggest theatre institutions in the UK, the theatre was originally opened as an offshoot of the Old Vic and later reopened as part of the National Theatre, eventually becoming independent in 1974. Located in Waterloo, the theatre unites the most exciting young talents with critically acclaimed theatre practitioners. Aiming to break the hierarchical barriers sometimes found in theatre, the Young Vic creates world-class shows at affordable prices, and prides itself on its local focus that resonates throughout the international theatre industry.

Bush Theatre

Widely acclaimed as ‘the seedbed for the best new playwrights’, the Bush Theatre in Shepard’s Bush is internationally recognised for its significance on new writing. With a focus on diversity, the plays commissioned here are forged by playwrights of differing backgrounds, exploring contemporary issues in sophisticated and enlightening ways. ‘Provocative’ and ‘entertaining’ are two core qualities that unite this eclectic range. Receiving thousands of unsolicited scripts each year, the Bush theatre offers many nurturing services such as workshops, developments and Q&As with directors, playwrights and dramaturges.

Arcola Theatre

Located in Hackney in a converted paint factory, Arcola Theatre not only presents a captivating range of shows, from rarely staged classics to cutting edge debut tales, it also has a unique environmental focus to its activities. In a programme called Green Arcola, the venue uses recycled objects and materials to create its sets, and for some performances hydrogen fuel cell are used to power the lighting. Presenting a wide range of genres, from soul-searching dramas to hysterical comedies, Arcola Theatre also organises programmes that support the theatre industry, including workshops for both young and old practitioners, and collaborations with other theatre companies.

Almeida Theatre

Located in Islington, the Almeida Theatre attracts some of the greatest actors, directors, playwrights and designers from around the world to its intimate 325-seat theatre. While the theatre first opened in 1980, the history of its building dates back to 1837, when it was the home of the Islington Literary and Scientific Society. The venue’s repertoire includes a broad range of productions, from reinterpretations of Shakespeare to never before seen plays, while it also hosts an annual international theatre festival. Now under the direction of Artistic Director Rupert Goold, the theatre is proud of its reputation as a ‘local theatre with world profile.’

Lyric in Hammersmith

‘Provoking, entertaining, popular, eclectic, messy, contradictory and diverse’: the Lyric in Hammersmith theatre sets its goals high as a venue bridging the gap between international recognition and local focus. The original structure built in 1895 was carefully dismantled piece by piece and was reconstructed in its current location in Hammersmith. This new reincarnation was opened in 1979 by the Queen, and since then has undergone further renovations and updates to maintain its place as one of London’s most loved theatres. With multiple performance spaces, the Lyric in Hammersmith hosts, fosters and creates some of the most exciting works in the London theatre scene, working with both established and up and coming practitioners.

Southwark Playhouse

With a focus on youth and emerging talent, Southwark Playhouse is not only cultivating a bright future for British theatre, it also presents critically acclaimed shows time and time again. With an aim to intertwine the artistic, educational and community programmes, the theatre presents a rich diversity of shows pushing the boundaries of the medium of theatre. Normally set in vaults beneath London Bridge Station, the theatre has moved to a new venue in Borough due to renovations being done to the station. The theatre boasts of fantastic youth programmes that help spark young enthusiasts’ passion for theatre.