London’s West End shows are known the world over. But the capital is also home to dozens of smaller theatres, many of which punch above their weight when it comes to delivering theatrical hits. Here are six that are worth visiting:
Bunker Theatre, SE1
Converted from an underground car park in 2016, the Bunker Theatre in Southwark is quickly gaining a reputation for world-class writing. It has two resident companies, including Pint Sized whose talent scheme is supported by James Graham and Polly Stenham, producing several plays a year. Last summer I was bowled over by Devil With The Blue Dress, a brilliantly clever three-hander about Monica Lewinsky which ranked in my top five shows of 2018. Not bad given the ticket cost less than a G&T at certain West End theatres…
F**k You Pay Me – a one-woman show about power, money and stripping – runs from 7th to 19th May. Standard tickets are £16.
Old Red Lion, EC1
The Old Red Lion pub theatre in Angel really is tiny, with a maximum capacity of just 60. It’s got a big reputation though. Global smash hit The Play That Goes Wrong began life here in 2012. In 2015, it staged the world premiere of an unseen Arthur Miller play. In 2017, Cressida Bonas – Prince Harry’s ex – starred in a hit play about George Orwell’s marriage. It’s also one of the only London theatres to have Sunday matinees. While that might not be popular with Equity, it certainly helps fill those boring Sunday afternoons.
Bromley Bedlam Bethlehem, a new play by Rachel Tookey, runs from 3rd May to 25th May. Tickets from £10.
Jermyn St Theatre, SW1
Situated opposite Rowley’s restaurant in swanky St James’s, this intricate underground theatre is a total gem. Unlike a lot of fringe theatres (who go a bit cuckoo for ‘conceptual’ stuff), Jermyn Street Theatre takes an unapologetically old-fashioned approach to its programming, frequently resurrecting works from classic playwrights (including the criminally underrated Lillian Helman). For such a small space, their stagecraft is often a thing of beauty. A special mention for About Leo by Alice Allemano, a biographical play about surrealist artist Leonora Carrington – one of the best new works I saw last year.
Creditors, an August Strindberg revival, runs from 26th April to 1st June. Tickets from £15.
Finborough Theatre, SW10
This pub theatre has scooped an impressive number of industry awards since it opened its doors nearly forty years ago. As well as hosting some of the best talent in London, the Finborough does a lot to promote new playwrights, including hosting a well-endowed prize (£8,000) for first-time writers. Unsurprisingly, the Finborough (the theatre and the pub below) is well-loved in literary circles and it’s not uncommon for the best plays to sell-out months in advance. Best to get in early…
Jane Clegg, first performed in London in 1913, runs from 23rd April to 18th May. Tickets from £18.
Camden People’s Theatre, N1
For 24 years, the Camden People’s Theatre has been producing some of the most exciting fringe work in London. While it’s a solid bet for smaller dramas, this spit-and-sawdust venue is best known for its spoken word and comedy – particularly from fringe voices who might not always get a hearing in the more commercial venues. Given its artistic director also happens to be the best comedy critic on Fleet Street, you know you’re in safe hands here. Just don’t sit on the front row…
See Through, a ‘live documentary’/spoken word show about what it means to be a YouTuber, sounds particularly interesting. It runs from 23rd to 27th April.
Bridewell Theatre, EC4
While it might not be on par with the others (given it doesn’t produce its own work), the Bridewell Theatre at least merits an honorable mention. Situated in the shadow of the beautiful St Bride’s Church on Fleet Street, I’ve always had a soft spot for this charming arts venue (partly because it’s about five minutes from my flat…). As well as having a rustic underground bar, which is open to non theatre-goers too, it’s the adopted home of SEDOS, the City’s amateur dramatics company, who often put on solid revivals of big ticket dramas.
Fruitful, a night of new writing, takes place on 19th May. Tickets are £10.