Permanently peripatetic fringe powerhouse Southwark Playhouse has occupied several venues since it was founded in 1993, having twice been forced to look for new digs after redevelopment work in the London Bridge area by Network Rail.
With a 240-seat main house and a 120-seat studio, the current location at Elephant & Castle is almost twice as big as the previous venue and by far the largest London theatre that could be described as 'fringe'. But there are even more dramatic plans afoot for 2019, when the Playhouse is scheduled to move on to not one but two new venues: a 300-seater ‘main’ house near the current location, and a smaller venue back at its old digs on Tooley Street. Confused? Let’s just see what happens.
Artistically speaking, the programming under low-key, long-serving artistic director Chris Smyrnios is tricky to pin down, but revolves around new writing and off-the-beaten track revivals, with a latterday reputation for giving stripped down, thrilling second chances to unloved musicals.
Tickets are on the top end of fringe prices, with some musicals costing well over £20. But production values are scaled up in the large space, and the quality is often barely distinguishable from the subsidised off-West End, and there's a tendency for on-the-up TV actors to make their stage debut there.
A convivial bar has a tendency to get very full, but there's a couple of side rooms you can duck into.
As of 2023 it will launch a sister venue, Southwark Playhouse Elephant, with the ‘original’ theatre renamed Southwark Playhouse Borough.