Pub theatre is another way to enjoy theatre, comedy and performance outside of the West End grand theatre. Scattered across London, these intimate venues blend a traditional pub atmosphere with radical fringe theatre.
Pubs are quintessentially British, and so is the pub theatre. For decades, these tiny event rooms have been the epicentre of fringe performances and shows, and as such have become an important part of London’s theatre scene, and offer a compelling alternative to mainstream venues. Today, they face the challenges of a changing environment, but still provide distinctive entertainment for audiences both local and far away.
The Old Red Lion Theatre.
The Old Red Lion Theatre opened in 1979 and is part of London’s long-established fringe theatre scene. The Old Red Lion Theatre takes pride in developing up-and-coming talent and is a springboard for the likes of Casey Burke, Stephen Dudley, Penelope Skinner and Nina Raine. The award-winning comedy The Play That Goes Wrong, which is currently playing on Broadway, premiered here in 2012. In addition, the theatre has hosted the last two London Horror Festivals, and The Red Lion is also a family-run pub, which is said to date back to 1415.
418 St John Street, London EC1V 4NJ
Founded 30 years ago in the heart of Camden, Etcetera has built its reputation by constantly supporting some of the most exciting new artists on the London scene. Theatre companies, comedians, and performers present programs that include award-winning plays, new works, burlesque, magic, comedy, and musicals. It is also at the heart of many of London’s annual theatre festivals, including the Camden Fringe, Black Box Theatre Festival and Voila! European Theatre Festival.Located on the first floor, The Oxford Arms is a family-run pub that offers a lively atmosphere, live sporting events and generous opening hours.
265 Camden High Street, London NW1 7BU
Bread and Roses Theater.
The union-owned tavern was named after a song written by James Oppenheim during a strike in Massachusetts in 1912, when female textile workers held up banners calling for bread and roses. The theatre was launched by its eponymous company in November 2014 and won the ICPW 50/50 Applause Award the following year. The program promotes equality, diversity and artistic quality through new plays, contemporary covers, classics, improvisation, comedy and more. In addition, the downstairs bar offers a beer garden and live music on the weekends. The Bread and Roses Players also founded the Clapham Fringe Festival (Clapham Fringe Festival), which is held each year in early autumn.
68 Clapham Manor Street, London SW4 6DZ
The King’s Head Theatre, once a secret room housing a boxing ring and billiard table, was the first pub theatre in London since Shakespeare’s time, and its achievements since 1970 speak for themselves. While many plays have moved on to the West End and Broadway, the likes of Kenneth Branagh, Dawn French, John Hurt, Ben Kingsley and Victoria Wood have made their first plank here, and in 2016, the King’s Head set a record for the highest ever box office – 43,857 – proving that London’s fringe theatre is still alive and well.
115 Upper Street, London N1 1QN (moving to Islington Square soon).
The Drayton Arms dates back to 1860, and its upstairs rooms have been used for theatre since World War II. More recently, it has been transformed into a professional fringe venue, providing an intimate space for new companies and artists. The theatre’s repertoire includes classics, new works and comedies. The theatre showcases new and emerging work each night, while the first floor offers freshly prepared seasonal cuisine and all the conveniences of the South Kensington Tavern.
153 Old Brompton Road, London SW5 0LJ
White Bear Theatre
In the true spirit of bar theatre, the White Bear Theatre supports new shows by presenting new works and reviving lost classics. In its nearly 30 years of activity, the theatre has won numerous awards, including the Off West End, the Mark Marvin/Peter Brook Award and Time Out’s Best Fringe Venue. Another reason to visit is the historic White Bear Tavern, which opened in 1780. Modern and traditional, this pub is one of Kennington’s most popular beer gardens and home to three hives.
138 Kennington Park Rd, London SE11 4DJ
New and overlooked masterpieces are a staple of the Finborough Theatre. The small size is certainly not commensurate with the reputation this theatre has built since its inception in 1980, and over the past 30 years the Finborough Theatre has become one of the most illustrious venues in London’s theatre scene, while maintaining a proudly unsubsidised status. Currently under the direction of artistic director Neil McPherson, Finborough has an inclusive programme that aims to bring outstanding music to this intimate corner of West London, while the downstairs pub offers live music and a great selection of beers.
118 Finborough Road, London SW10 9ED
Pentagram Theatre Company
Deeply rooted in the local community of Hampstead and known for its traditional artistic style, the Pentameters Theatre, which celebrates its 50th birthday in 2018, belongs to the pantheon of London’s historic and most respected fringe theatre. Pre- and post-play dinners are provided by Horseshoe Pub, which features an ever-changing menu, seasonal offerings and craft beers daily. The Camden Town Brewery started out in the basement, initially DIYing here, trying to make some beers to serve upstairs, which turned out quite successful.
28 Heath Street (entrance), London NW3 6TE.