London’s theatrical scene can seem a bit moribund if judged by the touristy offerings served up in the innumerable West End theaters, with their wall-to- wall musicals and other populist shows.
Despite appearances, there is a thriving fringe scene in many of the capital’s pub theaters – London’s equivalent to New York’s off-off-Broadway. These “theaters” usually consist of a small room above a pub. They often have only basic equipment, forcing producers into prodigious feats of improvization and putting actors and audience more or less in one another’s laps – all making for some intimate drama.
There’s an eclectic repertoire on offer, too, taking in everything from new plays and adaptations to revues, cabaret, and the occasional classic. Tickets are a snip compared to those at mainstream theaters.
London’s oldest, and still the best-known, pub theater is the King’s Head Theatre, which has graced Islington’s fashionable Upper Street since 1970. It has helped to launch the careers of some of Britain’s most celebrated actors, notching up 30 West End and six Broadway transfers in the process.
The nearby Old Red Lion Theatre, founded in 1979, also has an illustrious pedigree. Other notable venues include the Finborough Theatre in Earl’s Court, which has developed a remarkably big reputation for such a tiny venue, and the Landor Theatre in Clapham, which is known for its offbeat musical productions.
Finborough Theatre Earl’s Court;
King’s Head Theatre & Bar Islington;
Landor Theatre Clapham;
Old Red Lion Theatre Islington;