While London‘s West End may be famous for its playhouses and musicals, some of this thriving theater city’s most exciting productions take place not in big-name theaters, but in quirky non-traditional spaces. These alternative London theaters offer more than just a great evening out—they deliver a shot of nightlife that’s way off the tourist trail.
Hackney Wick, an area of East London bordering Stratford and home to some of the 2012 Olympic activity, is hands-down the current epicenter of London hipness. Full of artists’ studios and a growing number of trendy bars, it’s also the location of The Yard, a theater that began life as a pop-up in summer 2011 and is still going strong today. A sustainably built wooden amphitheater with seating for 130 fills one half of a former warehouse, while a bar (which has become a hub for the area’s artistic community) can be found in the other half. The theater program is a feast for fans of experimental work, while comedy nights, performance art, film screenings, club nights and dinner clubs also take place in this striking architectural environment. Theater fans will have to wait until September for their fix — the new season is yet to be announced — but every weekend in August the venue will host the Hive Project, a music event celebrating electronic music and club culture.
Another former warehouse now playing host to an impressive range of work is The Print Room. Theater, dance, concerts and art exhibitions make up the program at this old graphic design workshop tucked away in the area just north of Notting Hill Gate. Opened in September 2010, the venue has quickly become one of the most respected fringe theaters in the city, and is known for its intense, intimate productions of exciting new work. September sees the launch of the venue’s fall season, which opens with the first major London revival of Arthur Miller’s The Last Yankee (September 7th through October 5th). This dark drama is followed by a new production of The Dumb Waiter, Harold Pinter’s hilarious two-hander (October 23rd through November 23rd).
London’s railway arches may not seem like the most obvious place to stage a theatrical production, but up until recently performing arts fans had not one, but three vault venues to choose from. Since the closure of the Old Vic Tunnels and the relocation of Southwark Playhouse, however, the Union Theatre is the only option left for fans of theater in this most atmospheric of environments. The venue, a short walk from London Bridge, specializes in musicals, but presents plays, too. Its unique acoustics — the performers are never far from the audience in this petite space — offer a refreshing change from the large-scale spectaculars of the West End. This summer, the Union presents the London premiere of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Pipe Dream (running July 31st through August 31st). Based on the John Steinbeck novella Sweet Thursday, it tells the story of the love affair between a marine biologist and a prostitute.
Arguably London’s most unusual theater space can be found moored at Richmond-on-Thames each summer and in Little Venice on the Regent’s Canal in the winter. Seating just 55 guests, the Puppet Theatre Barge presents marionette theater and rod puppet spectacles for children and family audiences. The Three Pigs, a version of the classic nursery story adapted for kids, will be playing daily from July 27th through August 11th, while a hot pick for adult audiences, Howard Barker’s All He Fears, will be staged on selected dates between August 31st and September 28th.
Photo Courtesy of Tif Loehnis