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Pub theatres in London

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011

With hordes of tourists, over-priced tickets and endless Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals, you could be forgiven for thinking that London’s theatre scene has lost its cultural edge.

But there is a thriving fringe of dynamic and innovative theatre, in England‘s capital, taking place in hidden away venues across the city every night.  Hip, happening and hugely entertaining, some of the most cutting edge drama and comedy can be found in rooms above the capital’s pubs.

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Often with basic equipment and limited space, these productions force actors and audience more or less into each others laps – making for some of the city’s most electrifying and intimate performances.

And with tickets a snip compared to most other venues – as well as the chance to grab a pint while you’re watching the show – the clever theatre lovers are turning their backs on the West End.

The King’s Head Theatre
The oldest and perhaps best known of London’s pub theatres is the King’s Head.  Located in a room behind the bar of the King’s Head pub on Upper Street in the fashionable Islington borough, this intimate performance space has been hosting productions since the 1970s.

It has helped launch the careers of dozens of famous names, including Kenneth Branagh, Ben Kingsley, Gary Oldman and Alan Rickman.

Old Red Lion Theatre
Another long-standing venue, punters in the Old Red Lion in Angel are signalled by a bell that a performance is about to start.  Taking their drinks and a seat on the cushioned benches, they’ll be treated to comedy, one-person shows and some of the most exciting theatrical talent around.

The Rosemary Branch
As well as a fine selection of beers, wines and pub food, the Rosemary Branch offers an eclectic programme of opera, contemporary drama classics and new comedy writing.  It also plays host to art exhibitions.

The theatre is across the road from the Grand Union Canal on the borders of Hackney, Islington and Shoreditch.

Upstairs at the Gatehouse
Unsurprisingly, this production space run by Ovation Theatres Limited can be found above the Gatehouse pub in Highgate.  The two directors, John and Katie Plews, have been staging performances here for more than 20 years and have presented an off-beat mixture of mainstream shows, new interpretations of opera classics and alternative dramas, including an all-female production of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

Etcetra Theatre
Founded in 1986 and housed above the Oxford Arms pub in trendy Camden Town, this award winning theatre is well respected for both new drama and comedy.

It won the 1996 Guinness Ingenuity Award for Pub Theatre and was nominated for the 1996 Peter Brook Empty Space Award.

Normally offering a choice of two different plays per evening, Etcetra is a lively venue with a talented young crowd.

Finborough Theatre
Founded in 1980 above the Finborough Arms pub by June Abbott, the multi-award winning Finbrough Theatre in Earl’s Court presents both plays and musical theatre, as well as new writing and neglected work from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

It also runs a literary department and a Resident Assistant Director Programme.

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About the author

Venere Travel Blog writer mhairi dewar

Mhairi is a freelance writer and marketeer. Based in Manchester, she is a lover all things food and wine shaped, travel, random adventures and general merriment. She can often be found propping up the bar at any one of the city's numerous watering holes.

One response to “Pub theatres in London”

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  1. Mack Reynolds says:
    August 5th, 2011 at 20:52

    we have a lot of pubs here in the US called the “King’s Head Pub.” do you think they are all copies of the one you write about? if not, do you know why so many places take this name?

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