Lifestyle & Culture

Zoé Manset: Independent theatres in London you’ll want to check out this summer

A maxim I’ll endlessly repeat to whoever cares to listen (which usually is either my dog, my poor flatmate or both on a good day) is that whilst a rainy Paris is nicer than a rainy London, nothing tops a sunny London. Come summer, I always feel like a new Londoner, and I am ready for the city to throw its brilliant sunny ideas and events at me. This usually means a lot of theatre, and with the flurry of offers London has in stock, I do mean a lot of it.

The specificity of London theatre is that not only is there a large offering in terms of mainstream West End shows, but there is also a crazy amount of Independent – or so-called “fringe theatres” – potentially on your doorstep.

Enjoy this non-exhaustive tour of my personal favourites:

The Pub Theatres

A pub theatre is one of the most British things known to me as it meshes two key elements of the culture: a democratisation of thespian arts and a healthy pub habit. A lot of these small “Theatres above a pub” are run by a board of passionate members who will most often put on new writings which are submitted to them by the thousands of new theatre makers that London births.

These places are instrumental to the industry in several ways and their decline is a great cause of despair for fellow actors. Not only do they allow new actors to get a start and put on their own work which are the thermostat of a whole generation of young creatives, they also allow pub patrons from any walks of life to hit up a short and sweet show.

They are the theatres in which the highest number of walk-ins is recorded and these random encounters between audiences and theatre makers are what make the work truly worth it.

Most of them have similar features which are a blackbox 50-seater theatre space above (or sometimes below) a pub and a young actor manning the door.

Here is a list of the ones that will be busy this summer:

Camden and Kentish Town

The Lion and Unicorn Theatre, 42-44 Gaisford St, London NW5 2ED

The powerful female-lead dark comedy “Blood Bath” will be showing at the Lion and Unicorn from 29 thru 31 July

The Etcetera Theatre, above the Oxford Arms,

The Etcetera Theatre, 265 Camden High St, London NW1 7BU NB:

The bitingly funny new play, “This Porno Does Not Pass the Bechdel Test,” will be showing at the Etcetera Theatre on Friday 5 July.


The Old Red Lion Theatre, 418 St John St, London EC1V 4NJ

The King’s Head Theatre, 115 Upper St, London N1 1QN

The Hens & Chickens Theatre, 109 St Paul’s Rd, London N1 2NA

The Bread & Roses Theatre, 68 Clapham Manor St, London SW4 6DZ

The Brockley Jack Theatre, 410 Brockley Rd, London SE4 2DH NB:

The Jack’s next scratch night, an evening where theatre makers show extracts of their work in progress for interaction and feedback at very affordable prices, is on 7 July.

The Outdoor Giant

What could be better than combining a passion for independent theatre with a love for the great outdoors? Doing it in the King’s garden.

Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre is currently on its 92nd year and is an example of thriving independent theatre, which relies solely on private donations and ticket sales. With its lawn, long bar and several food options, it is the place to be to enjoy good theatre this summer.

Till 20 July, a gorgeous production of “The Secret Garden” is showing, to be followed from 27 July until September by a production of “Fiddler on the Roof.”

The in-betweens

This next selection is one of places that are often larger than blackbox theatres and sometimes offer several spaces for a wide range of performances, but are always solely devoted to the performing arts.

They are spread around London, and they all have an exciting programme for the summer.

Camden’s People Theatre, 58-60 Hampstead Rd, London NW1 2PY

The number one fringe location for theatre with a real currency. The different members of the directing board make sure that the new writings shown at the Camden People’s theatre always raise questions that are contemporary to the lived experiences of a wide range of people, including marginalised communities.

The Courtyard Theatre, 40 Bowling Green Walk, Pitfield St, London N1 6EU

Standing in a lovely vibrant Shoreditch location, the Courtyard Theatre is known for its two spaces which house theatre, immersive performances, exhibitions and a lot of live music. This summer, be sure to catch the hilarious new play “Tit(s) for Tats” on 17 and 18 July.

Riverside Studios, 101 Queen Caroline St, London W6 9BN

Riverside studios occupy a very special place in my heart as they are a world of themselves on their little corner of the Thames in the heart of Hammersmith. The have three different spaces which house theatre, live comedy and cabaret performances. Their biannual Bitesize Festival, running throughout July, is a wonderful occasion to discover new short plays. Don’t miss the very adult retelling of Hansel and Gretel, “The Gingerbread Boudoir,” from 15 July thru 19 July.

The Arcola Theatre, 24 Ashwin St, London E8 3DL

The larger monster of this list, the Arcola offers two, 200-seat spaces in its East London venue of Dalston, housed in an old paint factories. The Arcola is a hub for political work and often includes the local community in its productions, which go from straight theatre to musicals and operas.


Read more about London here in Dispatches’ archives.

See more from Zoé here.

Zoé Manset
author at  | Website

Zoe Manset is a French actress, writer and producer based in London, UK. After growing up in the Fragrant Harbour otherwise known as Hong Kong, Zoe moved to London in 2018 to pursue a BA in Art History at the Courtauld Institute of Arts. Missing the stage too much, she then completed a two year MFA in drama school and is now living the freelance actor life at full speed. Zoe is a fashion history lover, a great pub amateur, a dancer and a big foodie!

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