Every day, thousands of theatre fans flock to the huge, well-established venues of London’s famous West End. But beyond the bright lights of Covent Garden, there’s a whole world of quirky small theatres to discover. Here’s our pick of some of the most exciting venues to experience London’s off-West End theatre scene.
Puppet Theatre Barge, Little Venice
Theatre… on a boat? Located in the heart of London’s picturesque Little Venice, Puppet Theatre Barge is a delightfully unusual concept – ideal for theatre-loving boat-fanciers, big or small. Its shows are usually cheery riffs on classic fairytales, featuring hand-carved wooden puppets. A theatre trip with a difference that’s sure to float your boat.
Spiegeltent, London Wonderground
Each summer, a gorgeous stripy tent pitches up on the Southbank and hosts a lively blend of cabaret, circus, burlesque and musical fun. Mirrors line the late 19th century-style interior, whose deep red walls provide a plushy backdrop for a daring band of artists. But be ready to get up close and personal with your fellow audience members, as well as with the performers – this is cabaret at its intimate best.
Tricycle Theatre, Kilburn
No, it doesn’t have three wheels. But the Tricycle Theatre is still unusual for mixing a full programme of cinema from around the world with a well-respected theatre programme. Its artistic director, Indhu Rubasingham, has presided over award-winning shows that have transferred to the West End, including Moira Buffini’s Handbagged and Lolita Chakrabarti’s Red Velvet. Not bad for a 235-seater theatre in Kilburn that’s also a vibrant community hub.
The Vaults, Southwark
Leake Street is often called Banksy Tunnel because of the spectacular, multicoloured street art to be discovered here. But it’s also where you’ll find the entrance to The Vaults, an underground performance venue housed in disused railway tunnels. Productions range from hit immersive experience Goosebumps Live! to the fringe theatre shows that make up the annual Vault Festival. Wrap up warm, and get ready for some bright and beautiful new encounters.
The Print Room, Notting Hill
The Print Room began life as a theatre, before being turned into popular cinema The Coronet. After over a century entertaining West London film fans, this beautiful building is returning to its roots as a live entertainment venue. The modern façades in the main auditorium have been stripped back to reveal ornate plasterwork and gilded royal boxes. And although the building is still being lovingly restored, a temporary theatre space is already up and running – staging everything from Beckett to modern ballet.
Polka Theatre, Wimbledon
This cosy children’s theatre has a smiling clock on its cheery façade. But the kid-friendly fun doesn’t stop there. The brightly coloured foyer has toys, dressing up clothes and a book corner. And outside, the theatre’s courtyard garden is home to both a Wendy house and ‘Orlando the giant cat’, which children can clamber over and crawl under – don’t worry, he’s a piece of play equipment, not a real moggy!