Given how often I go to the theatre it was inevitable that I’d develop a fondness for certain venues. The truth is that a great night out at the theatre is about more than the show. Don’t get me wrong, the show is a bloody important ingredient, but the really special nights are about so much more than that.
So what makes a great venue for me?
- Friendly box office and front of house teams are a must. Being able to chat to the person that is pouring your wine about the show you’re about to see also really adds to the experience.
- I like places where you can have a drink pre/post show and not pay eye-watering prices for them. Even better (but not a deal-breaker) if there are food options too, whether its a full blown restaurant or a selection of sandwiches, because even the theatre addicted have got to eat.
- A track record for hosting or producing interesting and varied shows is a given. I don’t want to be bored with obvious, mindless, theatre fodder.
So, in short, this list showcases venues where I feel welcome to come early and leave late, and where I can be fed and watered without being bankrupted, after seeing a fascinating show.
One big caveat – this list does not include pub theatres. London is full of fabulous venues above really friendly, lovely pubs. So many that they really need to get their own separate post.
So here goes, my top 10 theatre venues in London, starting with my favourite and working down are as follows:
- The Soho Theatre – this will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me. I love this place, I spend hours in their bar drinking tea and writing words. I’ve always felt looked after there and have had some pretty surreal (in a good way) post show experiences. A quick post show drink there has often turned into a race to make my last train home. It can get really busy (particularly on Fridays) but there is a friendliness to the buzz and the crowd is definitely mixed, reflecting the eclectic and wonderful mix of shows they have on each night. Well worth supporting the theatre and becoming a member as you get to enjoy the bar after 11pm (when it becomes ticket holders & members only), as they stay open until 1am.
- The Young Vic– friendly staff, lovely restaurant (recommend booking as popular) and decently priced drinks. Also attracts a really interesting mixed crowd of people. Well worth lingering after a show over a cocktail, drinking in the vibe. They’re home to some great theatre, including some of my favourite shows of the last few years.
- Battersea Arts Centre – so much more than a theatre, the BAC is a hub for the local community. They have a lovely bar, very reasonably priced and an eclectic mix of spaces and furniture for you to relax in. There is regular live music and lots going on there. If you’ve never ventured to Clapham Junction, it is well worth the trip. If you’ve not been since the fire that destroyed their great hall, fear not, a lot of the building survived unscathed and is as gorgeous as ever. Oh and they have a theatre cat, so if you’re lucky you may see the lovely Pluto strolling around.
- The Almeida – compared to the venues above, the bar at the Almeida is a lower key, smaller space but that doesn’t stop it being a lovely place to hang out. Quality wine and a regularly changing cocktail list (linked to what production is playing) make it a lovely place for a drink and a chat. They have a short but yummy menu and do fabulous brownies should you fancy a sweet treat. They only have one space, vs multiple spaces like many on this list, but definitely punch above their weight in terms of interesting theatre. Their Spring 2017 shows look really sexy.
- The Royal Court – with a vibrant downstairs bar and restaurant, it’s a great place to hang out with a friend and people watch. Their burgers are epic. As a writer led theatre they have a really exciting repertoire of shows. If you’ve only ever been to the Downstairs Main House theatre, you really should try out the smaller Upstairs space, they’ve been making magic up there.
- Southwark Playhouse – since they’ve introduced numbered seating in the main house this has become a lovely theatre to go to. Really friendly bar and box offices teams, comfortable space to sit and chill pre or post show with a drink or two. Plus if you are a lover of musical theatre, you should be keeping a very close eye of what they do, they’ve a great track record for hosting some gems. I’m really excited about ‘The Life’ which will be running there from 25th March.
- The Bush Theatre– have always loved this venue and very excited to see it post refurbishment. I couldn’t leave it off the list just because I’ve not had a chance to check it out yet (if anything I suspect it will move up the list once I have). I’m confident their friendly team and amazing collection of play-texts will still be there. Whether they still offer a cheap but yummy stew for dinner I’ll find out soon enough.
- The Park Theatre– a lovely space in Finsbury Park. A good bar, space to sit and chat with a friendly atmosphere. If you’ve never been, I’d definitely make an effort to go, they’ve got some great shows coming up in 2017 (I’m excited about Chinglish and Madame Rubinstein myself). As it’s a modern building it also has good accessibility for wheelchair users.
- Arcola Theatre – a fabulous sustainable venue, manned by a friendly team with a lively bar. Food situation is different every time I go though, which keeps me on my toes. I’m looking forward to seeing ‘The Lower Depths’ there in February. They tend to have a really exciting and varied selection of shows.
- The Old Vic – this is the only old traditional shaped theatre on the list. A lot of people don’t realise that the downstairs bar (Penny) is open late (1am/2am depending on the day). They sometimes host live events there and offer 20% discounts for ticket holders post show. To check out what they’re up to, go to the Old Vic website. Also, for those of you thinking that the Old Vic theatre prices are too rich for their blood (particularly if like me you like decent seats), you really should check out their £10 PWC initiative. You’ve just missed it for ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead’ but you can sign up to their email list to get the heads up when they go on sale for ‘Woyzeck’ here: http://www.oldvictheatre.com/your-visit/pwc-10-previews/
Photo by Louise Twycross-Lewis