Having reached the ripe old age of 30 in 2010, The Finborough is still going strong bringing bright and solid theatre to its corner in West London. Artistic director Neil McPherson is much lauded for his eye for new talent and for turfing up forgotten and hidden texts. The space may be compact, but The Finborough's impact on London's theatre scene belies its stature.
You're guaranteed at least one new musical a year at Jermyn Street Theatre, a venue where the work of newbie playwrights is aired alongside the forgotten or rarely-staged works of established writers. The combination results in a bill that has featured both Sylvia Plath's only play 'Three Women' and Zoe Samuel and Benjamin Scheuer’s satirical 'Jihad! The Musical'.
Musical junkies who've tired of the West End fix might take comfort in Landor Theatre. Almost solely dedicated to new musicals and revivals, the theatre often hosts seasons of back-to-back sing-along productions, interspersed with musical comedy.
Intrinsically linked to Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the Pleasance has an outpost in Islington as well as a home in Edinburgh come August's Fringe fest. While its Edinburgh venues (26 in total) come alive during the summer, the Islington Pleasance plugs away all year round turning out new productions and hosting hot comic talent. Graham Norton, Al Murray, Harry Enfield, Bill Bailey and Harry Hill have all made regular appearances here while comic wannabes are often found trying out new material before heading up north. Theatre productions tend toward the innovative and socially pertinent with mixed results.
Standing firm and proud as a major traffic hub has been developed around it, the RVT dates from 1863, and remains true to its century-old tradition as a cabaret venue. It’s been serving confirmed bachelors since before Kylie was born and is now the royal palace of Voho, the gay village of Vauxhall. On any given night, star names may be draped banner-big across its traditional pub frontage (Lily Savage got her start behind the bar), and the place may be absolutely jammed.
After a hugely successful 2012, this fringe powerhouse was forced to quit its home underneath London Bridge due to ongoing redevelopment work at the station. Though Southwark Playhouse has been promised a spot in the revamped London Bridge, it moves – for now – to this warehouse near Elephant & Castle. With a 240-seat main house and a 120-seat studio, it's almost twice as big as the old venue and almost certainly the largest London theatre that could be described as 'fringe'.
This forward-thinking pub theatre is dedicated to freshly-baked writing, artistic directors Paul Robinson doing a sterling job of rooting out brave new works for their tiny stage. Having launched in 2002 with an outstanding line up that included writers such as Dennis Kelly, Phil Porter and Rachael Wagstaff, the ambitious 65-seater has since had great success, most notably winning an Olivier for best new play (Katori Hall’s ‘The Mountaintop’) in 2010.
Walk a little too fast along Union Street and you might well miss the entrance to this underground theatre. Housed in a former warehouse, and masquerading as a cafÈ from the outside, Union Theatre remains a rough-around-the edges sort of venue with a shabby, low-lit bar and cavernous, dank auditorium. Despite its size and budget, Union loves to host musicals – think ‘HMS Pinafore’ and ‘Sweeny Todd’ – as well as political or socially conscious comedies. The results are mixed, but some sure gems have been turfed up here.
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