Check Out London's Top Small Theatres

Samantha White

From the National to the Royal Court, London contains a host of buzzing, beautiful and brilliant theatres, filled to the brim with the best performing arts that the city has to offer. However, surrounding the sold-out, celebrity-featured west-end hits & musical masterpieces, there lay the smaller, quirkier ‘wee’ venues and stages that produce work so moving, hilarious and heart-breaking you’ll be left questioning whether that pint of blood you spent on ‘Book Of Mormon’ was worth it. For an experience that’s fresh and unexpected, go dip your toes into these snug theatre hot spots.

1. Top Secret Comedy Club

Nightclub, Bar, European

So secret they hid it underground. Beneath busy Drury Lane, heart of theatre-land, Top Secret offers the best of new comical talent as well stand-up TV stars. Bar, Stage space & (occasionally) ping-pong area, the club creates a very atmospheric evening of entertainment with ‘fun’ being the headline intention. Drinks available at great prices with discounts on rounds of house beer and shots, it’s the place to be. Weekly Tuesday improv act ‘Shoot from the hip’ continue as the recommended favourites – particular show not to miss.

2. Tristan Bates Theatre

Theater, Theatre

Established in 1994, in memory of young aspiring actor Tristan Bates, the theatre is situated amongst London’s performing royalty situated within The Actors Centre building on Tower Street. Known for exhibiting contemporary, international and new material, the theatre has gained a reputation for encouraging the more moody and philosophical pieces into production within its incredibly small, 70-seated venue. Currently featuring carnivorous comedy ‘You look tasty!’ and optimistic one-man comedy show ‘Timmy Failure’.

3. Chickenshed Theatre


Theatre performance
Courtesy of Chickenshed
As well as a successful theatre based in North London, Chicken shed works as an exclusive theatre company and charity. The company’s aim is not just to host a-class productions but to educate and lead a variety of outreach programmes as well. The key quality of Chicken shed is its wish to accommodate for a range of audiences, which is why you’ll rarely get to see the same thing twice. Chicken shed hosts a wide selection of theatrical forms expanding across the city. Currently in production, a modern depiction of Shakespeare’s classic ‘The Tempest’ in ‘The Tempestuous Tale of Prospera and Her Island’.

4. Orange Tree Theatre


Regarded as the ‘pocket-sized National Theatre’, Orange Tree is known for and adored by many industry professionals as a real ‘actor’s theatre’. Productions tend to be fresh, intense, involving and more than often, very popular. Potentially seating over a 168 within a squared and centred stage, the audience surrounds the activity – the effect is that of being submerged into the very heart of a scene. Engaging, dramatic and involving, the Richmond based venue offers only the boldest and high-quality of theatrical work. New to the theatre, critically acclaimed show is piece ‘Buckets’, taking audiences onto a journey through moments seized, wasted and wish for.

5. Canal Café Theatre


The Water Maze at Merchant Square
Courtesy of The Fountain Workshop Limited
Romantically set-up in a traditionally tabled seated like arrangement & conveniently located above the Bridge House Pub, the Canal Café Theatre hosts over fourteen shows a week, making for a rather cosy, cute and undeniably hilarious spot to enjoy a good night out. Regular shows such as group comedy act ‘NewsRevue’ and one off specials from known talent and Fringe favourites frequently take up the Canal’s timetable as well as a range of colourful Cabaret and indie music acts.

6. The Gate Theatre


If the production is political, brave or loud you can trust it will soon be available to be seen on The Gate’s stage. With a stylish and yet incredibly minimalist setting, the theatres environment is designed to act as a blank canvas with the abilities to transport you into both the surreal and the bare. Featuring socially complex plays such as ‘Image of an Unknown Woman’, ‘The Christians’ and ‘Medea’, The Gate prides itself on harsh, provoking dramas that challenge the way we think. For a wake-up call kind of performance or something to spark social/political comment, find it at the Gate.

7. h Century Theatre


A truly beautiful theatre, dripping in 20th Century theatrical and historical culture, this venue is to be marvelled at its architecture as well as its ability to transform into a hub of entertainment. The site hosts a variety of performance pieces as well as fashion events, concerts, auctions, showrooms as well as community events. Dubbed as ‘Notting Hill’s best kept secret’ the venues structure oozes such beauty and drama that it has even been grade two listed as a site of English Heritage.

8. The Cockpit Theatre


On the tip on any young budding performers tongue – the Cockpit currently rules the North of London as the site for experimental and inspiring new theatre. One of the hosts for the Camden Fringe Festival, be sure to catch whatever you can on display as it arrives fresh from Edinburgh. Quirky and creative, The Cockpit celebrates many types of plays and performance, regularly showcasing series of short-plays and monologue slams as well as family friendly entertainment afternoons.

9. The Bush Theatre


Predominantly a location for new, relatable and natural material, The Bush endeavours to revel in the creation of its playwrights and their work. Always seeking something exciting and unseen to exhibit on their West London stage, the Bush commissions work from submitted plays all year round, harvesting only the top into actual production. It’s a place to debate ideas as well performing them, ‘Bush Green’ is their indoor discussion platform that allows writers, actors and curious admirers to talk about current plays and the future projects.

10. Arts Depot


The Arts Depot is an award-winning arts centre that theatrically and artistically thrives alongside its support from the Arts Council, allowing many productions and functions available to catch free of charge. The centre focuses on encouraging artistic innovation and supporting artist development which proves for a generally excellent mix, with most productions receiving high critical acclaim. Diversity and range is certainly a popular quality achieved at Arts Depot with current shows including art exhibition ‘I was born into fire’, dance performance ‘Moving words’ and charity comedy event ‘Grief Encounter’.

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