"What are you up to tonight?"
"Well, I'm off to the theatre..."
Everyone wants to be able to say that.
Nothing does a better job of banishing the perception of you night after night in front of the telly with a Findus Crispy Pancake than "Well, I'm off to the theatre..."
It's cultured, it's glamourous, it's erudite, it's urbane... it's all those other words which you barely understand and which people seldom use to typically describe you. Which is brilliant, because that's what the theatre is all about. It's escapism. But it's escapism without the amniotic protection of the TV or cinema screen. You're right there, just rows from the action, in the thick of it. So close, you can see the beads of sweat on Simon Callow's over-worked brow.
But the production and the performance are just half the story. The playhouses themselves are the unsung heros of "theatre", creating atmosphere, a sense of occasion and inspiring a great performance from the cast.
We've put together a list of what we think are London's greatest theatres.
London's most cherished theatres
"What are you up to tonight?"
The Soho Theatre is all about fostering talent, whether it is in comedy, cabaret or theatre itself. Slap bang in the centre of one of London’s most creative areas; the Soho Theatre still has the chops to stand out. Critically acclaimed shows consistently grace the three spaces and it is as unpretentious and welcoming a space as you’ll find.
The Almeida Theatre is one of the ‘little big guys’ in the world of Off-West End theatre. With a 325-seat space it is no slouch in the size stakes and the Islington venue is internationally renowned. Staging both British and international drama, the Almeida also links to the community to push accessible and interesting theatre to the people.
Located on Upper Street in Angel, The King’s Head is both pub and theatre. You’ll find live bands playing regularly throughout the week but perhaps most strangely is that while that is going on the work of young directors, actors, writers and producers is being performed in the back. Having transferred over 30 shows to the West End over the years The King’s Head Theatre is something of a legendary space.
A reputation aligned with theatrical excellence, the artistic leadership of Sam Mendes and at least six productions a year; The Donmar Warehouse is a true heavyweight of London theatre. Located in the heart of Covent Garden the theatre is an informal space that consistently dazzles.
The Red Lion is one of the most famous of all the pub theatres in London, if not the most famous. Constantly showcasing new work to Islington, it is a good size venue that has an air of consistency at its heart. It may not be quite as thrifty as some small theatre pubs but then, you pay for quality.
Who likes pubs? Everyone. Who likes theatre? Some people. Match made in heaven. The White Bear is Kennington Road’s most famous pile of bricks. Established in 1988, the back room theatre is a solid size for a fringe venue and has blooded stars such as Emily Watson and carries a reputation for innovative productions.
Some call the Royal Court ‘London’s coolest theatre’, some say that it is the modern home of new writing. What is undisputed is that the theatre is always likely to entertain its audience. Promoting new plays and new writers, the work of the Royal Court has also been taken around the world as the venue’s star continues to rise.
Beneath a church in Holborn lays a knight who was interred to its crypt for eternity. Since its excavation though it’s no longer just the rats and mice he has for entertainment, it is the cream of London’s fringe theatre scene too. St Andrew’s is now host to one of the most atmospheric venues you could imagine. The cold breeze you’ll feel is probably some dead man blowing on you, the crumbling walls are the playthings of poltergeists and the many tunnels and cubbyholes are the perfect place to lose yourself… forever!
Whether you are seeing a production on the main stage or in the Vault below, Southwark Playhouse will offer the same thing. Drama. Working with schools and young, up and coming writers, the theatre is always striving to present new and creative theatre. Located between Bermondsey and London Bridge, the Southwark Playhouse is another with a bar worthy of a visit alone.
Sibling to The Old Vic, the slightly more delicate theatre space resides at the other end of The Cut in Waterloo. With a great café and bar upstairs it is even worth a visit if you’re not seeing a production. The Young Vic specialises in the work of young directors and writers so you can always be sure of a contemporary spin on things.