A trip to the theatre is one of London’s best nights out. With the exception of New York, no city has the same array of innovation, diversity and exciting new voices in its midst, and while there’s nothing quite like the West End, the volume and quality of London’s vibrant smaller, independent theatre scene are one of the true jewels in the crown of the city.
From Hackney to Southwark, here are some of our favourite independent theatres in London, and some of the exciting shows that are set to be showcased.
Founded in 1993, this theatre company is also a registered charity with a commitment to using the arts as a force for good in the community. Spread across two locations in Borough and Elephant & Castle, they focus on showcasing a diverse and innovative portfolio of work, as well as a teaching programme of participation work.
What’s to book? Operation Epsilon
Loved Oppenheimer? This new show should be right up your alley. Set during the final stages of World War 2, and based on actual transcripts of secretly recorded conversations, it follows a group of ten of Germany’s foremost nuclear scientists who have been captured by The Allies and sequestered deep in the English countryside for questioning; how close are the Nazis to making an atomic bomb?
When: 15th September – 21 October
Buy tickets: southwarkplayhouse.co.uk
This independent theatre prides itself on discovering new and exciting playwrights that reflect the vibrancy of contemporary British culture. In an industry often beset by inequality of opportunity, they have given a platform to many artists and shows that have gone on to a West End run and have launched actors such as Alan Rickman, Phoebe-Waller Bridge and Andrew Scott.
What to book: Elephant
Part gig, part musical love story, part journey through Empire, this all-new expanded production of Anoushka Lucas’ Elephant runs for just three weeks following its celebrated, sold-out run in the Bush’s Studio last year.
This expanded production reunites writer and performer Anoushka Lucas with original director Jess Edwards.
When: 14th October – 4th November
Buy tickets: bushtheatre.co.uk
Based in Hackney, Arcola is one of the most affordable theatres in London and commits to a roster that aims to champion diversity and challenge the status quo of the industry. Through Artistic Director Mehmet Ergem they boast an eclectic mix of plays, opera and musicals.
What to book: Gentleman
No matter what age you are, this time of year makes everyone think of one thing: Back to education. This campus-drama follows University freshers Greg and Kasper who begin college life in contrasting ways: Greg has taken to university life like a duck to water. Kasper is struggling to fit in.
Summoned to a mediation session with Kasper and the college welfare officer to discuss an accusation of plagiarism, Greg argues his way out of trouble. But when the allegations evolve into something altogether more damaging, how long can Greg remain untouchable?
Gentlemen examines what happens when culture turns toxic, and how a fear of not fitting in risks everyone losing out.
When: 4th October – 28th October
Buy tickets: arcolatheatre.com
Formerly the Tricycle Theatre, the Kiln Theatre won Best London Theatre at the Stage Awards in 2021 and has launched many plays that have gone on to have huge national success such as Red Velvet, The Son and Handbagged.
Located in Kilburn, alongside its 292-seater main stage it also houses an independent cinema, as well as a bar, restaurant and cafe.
What to book? Two Strangers Carry a Cake Across New York
This new British romantic musical from writers Jim Barne and Kit Buchan sees Dougal, a naive, impossibly upbeat Brit, flying to New York for his Dad’s second wedding. Waiting for him at the airport is Robin, the sister of the bride. She’s a native New Yorker, she’s late for work, and she doesn’t have time to stop and see the sights. Instant attraction? Maybe not, but anything can happen in this entertaining journey.
When: 9th November – 23rd December
Buy tickets: kilntheatre.com
Located next to Finsbury Park, Park Theatre is one of London’s most recent success stories. Launched in 2013 after a long search for a suitable space, it soon garnered the support of British Theatre icons like Ian McKellan and Alan Rickman.
Under Artistic Director Jez Bond, it is known for its pioneering championing of diverse, modern theatre, and houses everything from gritty dramas to new musicals in its two intimate main stages, seating 200 and 90 respectively.
What to book? Sorry We Didn’t Die At Sea
Set in the near future in a failing Europe, three unnamed travelers place their lives in the hands of a mysterious people-smuggler. This darkly comic, absurdist, and political piece from Playwright Emanuele Aldrovandi offers a refracted story of European migration – asking us how well we would fare if we were forced to make a perilous journey across the sea, and what lengths we would go to in order to survive.
When: 13th September – 30th September
Buy tickets: parktheatre.co.uk
The Finborough Theatre might be small – seating just 50 in its main stage – but this West Brompton establishment is no less ambitious. As well as showcasing original works from across Britain and Ireland, it also puts on intimate productions from renowned playwrights like Tennesse Williams and Frank McGuinness
What to book? Dead Dad Dog and Sunny Boy
This Scottish play from 1988 sees young Alexander Dundee, or Eck, sharply ambitious, sexed-up and in a hurry, and eagerly awaiting the job interview that will change his life, before the sudden spectral appearance of his deceased father, Wullie. Eck is plunged into a blackly comic nightmare as he tries to survive the day with his dead father in tow…
When: 3rd – 28th October
Buy tickets: finboroughtheatre.co.uk