Why the hell are so many new theatres opening in London?

Andrzej Lukowski
Written by
Andrzej Lukowski
Theatre & Dance Editor, UK
In 2019, six major theatres are scheduled to open in London. Toss in Alexandra Palace Theatre (pictured above), which has only just staged its first major show, and that is a hell of a lot of stages: probably the most to ever spring up in our city in a year. But why? Don’t we have enough already? And who is actually going to go to them?

The cop-out answer is that it’s kind of a coincidence: they’re very different venues that exist for different reasons, from the boom in immersive productions (Space 18) to Soho Estates just wanting a theatre (the Boulevard).

The bolder answer is that a lot of it can surely be chalked up to London’s ongoing gentrification: most of these openings are connected to some redevelopment or other, be it the endless upgrade of London Bridge (Southwark Playhouse) or the transformation of the old BBC HQ into an upmarket new neighbourhood (Troubadour White City). And due to that unending gentrification boom, expect more – there are several lined up beyond 2019.

Will they all find audiences? Who knows? But we wish them all the best of luck. Here’s a round-up of the ones we know about right now.

Alexandra Palace Theatre
What is it? Not, in fact, a new venue but a restoration of an atmospheric old Victorian one. It was no longer used as a theatre after the BBC moved into the Palace in 1935.
What’s the capacity? 1,300.
What can you see? Not a lot: run by a charitable trust, its financial model doesn’t require continuous programming. But what they do put on looks pretty great: Headlong’s recent ‘Richard III’ was thrilling, and the ENO will be taking its acclaimed ‘Paul Bunyan’ there from May 9 to 13.

Troubadour White City Theatre
Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre/Troubadour White City Theatre
What are they? Two huge, flexible venues being opened as part of a new London development, operated by the team behind the excellent temporary King’s Cross Theatre. Both are due to open this summer.
What’s the capacity? Wembley Park: 1,000-2,000; White City: 1,200 and 800.
What can you see? Wembley Park has a couple of popular pre-existing shows booked in (‘Dinosaur World Live’ and ‘War Horse’); White City we know nothing about, other than it has two large theatres to fill. Exactly how the Troubadour proposes to fill such vast spaces year-round is perhaps the great mystery of London’s new crop of theatres.

Boulevard Theatre
Boulevard Theatre
What is it? A hi-tech, boutiquey theatre (taking the name from a venue that used to be on the same site) in the middle of Soho, with an upmarket attached restaurant. It essentially exists because Fawn James of Soho Estates – who own much of Soho – decided she really wanted a theatre.
What’s the capacity? 165.
What can you see? Plays, plus late-night cabaret. Artistic director Rachel Edwards will announce her first season in May for an autumn start.

Space 18
What is it? This vast multi-building space on New Oxford Street is billed as London’s first purpose-built immersive theatre.
What’s the capacity? Quantifying the capacity of a non-seated venue is difficult, but basically it’ll be an awful lot.
What can you see? Space 18 is specifically being built as the home of immersive horror show ‘Variant 31’, which is due to open in September. Whether it will host further immersive shows after that is probably a question for another day. 

Southwark Playhouse Elephant
Southwark Playhouse Elephant/Southwark Playhouse London Bridge
What are they? Fringe powerhouse Southwark Playhouse is scheduled to move into not one but two new venues, with at least one opening by the end of 2019.
What’s the capacity? Elephant: 300; London Bridge: 200 and 150.
What can you see? Elephant will be the flagship building and roughly analogous to the current main house, playing host to musicals and the like. London Bridge will focus more on new and up-and-coming talent.


Coming in 2020/2021

King’s Head Theatre
The campy Islington theatre-pub is expected to move out of its well-worn 110-seat premises in 2020 into a new purpose-built venue with a 250-seat auditorium and an 85-seat studio.

New Nimax Theatre
Work has begun on the site of the old Astoria for a redevelopment that will include a new, in-the-round, 650-seat venue, operated by the Nimax group. It will be the first large theatre to open in the actual West End since the ’70s.

Bridge Theatre 2
Nicholas Hytner and Nick Starr have made no secret of the fact that they want to build another venue to follow on from their swanky Bridge Theatre, which opened in 2017. The word is it’ll be in King’s Cross, will have 600 seats and will open in 2021. 

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