For all that London has to offer with regards to theatres, here’s my pick of five unique theatres on the fringe that you should certainly visit.
Rose Theatre Bankside
Let’s start at the very beginning in our list of unique theatres: a very good place to start. You can’t get as close to the beginning of London’s theatre scene than it’s first Bankside theatre: The Rose Theatre Bankside. The Rose Theatre Bankside predated The Globe and will have been the theatre that William Shakespeare will have premiered his earlier works, such as Henry VI Part 1, alongside the works of other contemporaries such as Christopher Marlowe. The remains of the Rose Theatre Bankside were discovered during building re-development work in the 1950s, and may have been lost forever if it wasn’t for a huge campaign, led by Sir Laurence Olivier, to protect the site, causing the government to pass a law to protect it and other such archaeological finds in situ. Whilst the Rose Theatre Bankside haven’t yet got enough funds to carry out a full excavation and preservation of the dig, as custodians they run a small visitor centre at the site (open most Saturdays), whilst the remains are being preserved in a silt bed.
The visitor centre also acts as a small fringe theatre, giving audiences a chance to see Shakespeare, and a wide range of other plays both historic and modern, performed at the historic site. Although the main performance area is small, many theatre companies often incorporate the archaeological site beyond into their productions to stunning affect, much like Timezone Theatre’s spectacular Othello. Be warned though, the environment makes the theatre quite chilly even in the summer (it’s a basement filled with cold water, after all): so wrap up warm. But not only is watching a show at The Rose Theatre Banksire an experience in itself due to its history, it’s the ingenuity of good theatre companies in using such a treasured space that makes it one of London’s great unique theatres.
For more information about the Rose Theatre Bankside, London, SE1 9AR, visit www.roseplayhouse.org.uk.
St Paul’s, Covent Garden
For the majority of the year, St Paul’s is a fully functioning church. You often don’t quite notice it as it sits right next to Covent Garden Market, and you’re more likely to notice street performers plying their trade underneath the church’s portico, rather than the church itself. St. Paul’s, Covent Garden is better known as a The Actor’s Church, not only serving a congregation that includes many of the Christian faith working in theatre, but also myriad dedications and memorials to famous actors within.
However, every summer, Iris Theatre Company turn the church and its extensive gardens at the back into a most wonderful promenade theatre (they also do a various shows throughout the year inside the church, too). Over the summer, the company perform one Shakespeare show (like Much Ado About Nothing) followed by one family show (like Pinocchio). The shows have consistently been of excellent quality in both pitch, performance, and production, making ingenious use of both the outdoor space and the interior of the church itself. It’s a real highlight of London’s unique theatres and absolutely shouldn’t be missed.
For more information about Iris Theatre’s production at St Paul’s, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 9ED, visit iristheatre.com.
The Docklands is usually something you’d associate with high-flying finance rather than fantastic fringe theatre. Yet tucked away on the Isle of Dogs is a unique theatre in a Grade II listed former chapel. What makes The Space one of London’s unique theatres is the how different companies make use of the surprisingly flexible space. From all the shows I’ve seen there, I’ve seen many different set-ups, all making different uses of certain aspects of the chapel’s notable architecture. Most outstanding have been a towering waterfall make of transparent plastic in When We Dead Awaken, and a 30ft lighthouse made out of flotsam and jetsam in The Lighthouse. The programming is consistently of a very high standard, so any show there is always a good punt if you’re stuck for something to see. The only catch is that it’s a bit out of the way to get to: a 10 minute walk from Mudhcute (DLR), or a 10 minute bus ride from Canary Wharf (Jubilee Line/DLR). But there’s also a lively cafe-bar, Hubbub, in it’s roof space (a pub above a theatre: go figure) that does great food and drink making it frequented by non-theatre-going locals, making any trip there well worth the journey.
For more information about The Space, London, E14 3RS, visit space.org.uk.
LOST is so called because it started as the London Oratory School Theatre club in Fulham, of which past members of which include Ralph Finnes, Dennis Kelly, and Mackenzie Crook. But given its current home, you might think it was named because of its unexpected location, with the auditorium literally sticking out of the side of a housing block; as if jammed in by a giant. It’s located on Wandsworth Road, a 5 minutes walk away from Stockwell tube (Northern/Victoria) and about a 10 minutes walk from Wandsworth Road station (Overground). It’s another of London’s unique theatres that’s not easy to get to, but absolutely worth the trip.
The LOST Theatre boasts one of the most generous and comprehensive fringe theatre spaces, complete with a 180 seat auditorium, with some quirks like an high opening in the cyclorama wall that is often exploited to great effect by shows. But its awkward location hasn’t hindered it’s success, with red carpet premiers with celebrity castings such as Strictly’s Joanne Clifton in Norma Jeane The Musical, Paul L. Martin’s outrageous adult pantomimes like Booty and the Biatch, the London 24-hour improvathon, and established renowned festivals: the One Act Festival, the Five Minute Festival, and previously the Face to Face Festival of Solo Theatre.
For more information about the LOST Theatre, London, SW8 2JU, visit www.losttheatre.co.uk.
Don’t panic, this is not another far-flung of London’s unique theatres! Although called Theatre N16, it’s mercifully not actually located in N16. It’s actually located right next to Balham station (Northern/National Rail) making it a very easy to get to. Originally located in N16 (hence the name) it’s now taken up residency in lively The Bedford pub (which is not actually located in Bedford). What’s unique about the building is that it is Grade II listed, so expect surprisingly interesting Victorian architecture throughout as well as good food and drink. Whilst many of the shows take place in a room at the top of the building, as the theatre continues to establish itself at the venue it’s beginning to make more use of “The Globe” space on the ground floor: a huge circular space that’s also used by the pub for comedy nights and live music.
What’s more, Artistic Director Jamie Eastlake – London’s youngest AD at 24 – is making real waves with his approach to running the space, namely charging £0 for theatres to hire the space for performances, collaborating with the pub to create a discount food menu for visiting performers, and very recently even launching a credit scheme for emerging writers and directors. This means that as well as Theatre N16 being one of London’s unique theatres by way of it’s venue, it’s a space that has seen some incredibly bold works such as Boat, The Rules of Inflation, and the first London revival of Howard Baker’s controversial Gertrude: The Cry, that may not have been performed otherwise due to costs.