Theatre and performing arts in Brighton
Where else can you catch previews of West End shows and Edinburgh comedy, an edgy performance artist and an international dance company, all within shouting distance of each other? Brighton has always been popular with luvvies – not least because of the ‘gulp bar’ backstage at Theatre Royal Brighton where Laurence Olivier downed whiskeys between scenes. You can see it for yourself on a tour of the theatre, a doyen of faded regency glamour which hosts weekly runs of big touring productions and has fed several shows to the West End.
If you’ve room for only one programme in your back pocket, make it Brighton Dome’s. This complex of three regency venues (Brighton Dome, Corn Exchange and Studio Theatre) is home to the international Brighton Festival, and a treasured one-stop shop for the arts. Further afield, The Basement is Brighton’s best alternative performance venue, and is underground in every sense. New programmers Otherplace Productions formerly ran the Chortle-award winning Upstairs at Three and Ten venue, so expect cutting-edge stand-up alongside the fringe theatre, performance art and spoken word. There’s a similar offer, often with an LGBT spin, at characterful little pub theatre The Marlborough.
Two new independent theatres have opened in striking buildings. The Emporium, in an old church on the rejuvenated London Road, has emerged as a valuable local artists’ hub, with a classic repertory programme and large, shabby chic foyer café open from 9am every day. Their patron is Alan Rickman, no less. The Rialto is in a former nightclub in the city centre, providing a home for itinerant local satire legends The Treason Show as well as space for the likes of West End musical-makers the Heather Brothers to roadtest new concepts. Meanwhile Brighton Open Air Theatre (BOAT) has transformed a disused bowling green on Dyke Road Park into a wonderfully atmospheric and flexible amphitheatre with turfed seating and the sea as its backdrop.
Another new performance venue, South East Dance’s flash new Dance Space, will open in 2017 as the centrepiece of a huge Circus Street redevelopment. In Hove, the Old Market is developing a gift for picking out great visual theatre companies. But don’t restrict yourself to permanent venues. Brighton Festival has a reputation for site-specific theatre staged everywhere from derelict retail stores to toilets. Meanwhile one of Brighton’s most innovative programmers, the Nightingale Theatre, built a set of old-fashioned bathing machines to host one-on-one performances, and has recently flown its nest above the Grand Central pub to become nomadic. Their slogan? ‘Theatre can happen anywhere’.
Theatre and performing arts venue details
Theatre Royal Brighton New Road, Brighton, BN1 1SD. 0844 871 7627.
Brighton Dome Church Street, Brighton, BN1 1UE. 01273 709709.
Corn Exchange (Brighton Dome). Church Street, Brighton, BN1 1UE. 01273 709709.
Studio Theatre (Brighton Dome). New Road, Brighton, BN1 1UE. 01273 709709.
Otherplace at Basement 24 Kensington Street, Brighton, BN1 4AJ. 01273 699733.
Marlborough Theatre Above the Marlborough Pub, 4 Prince’s Street, Brighton, BN2 1RD. 01273 273870.
The Emporium 88 London Road, Brighton, BN1 4JF. No phone.
The Rialto 11 Dyke Road, Brighton, BN1 3FE. 01273 725230.
Brighton Open Air Theatre (BOAT) Dyke Road Park, Hove, BN3 6EH. No phone.
The Old Market 11A Upper Market Street, Brighton, BN3 1AS. 01273 201801.
Nightingale Theatre 1Unit 7B, Level 3 North, New England House, New England Street, Brighton, BN1 4GH. 01273 702563.