In Focus: The South Bank Theatre Scene

London’s South Bank is the cultural quarter of the capital. Between Waterloo Bridge and Tower Bridge, there’s a multitude of arts spaces producing some of the best theatre seen in the world, all made south of the Thames. From national treasures to hidden gems, TheatreGB’s new features ‘In Focus’ takes you on a virtual tour of theatres not to miss when you come to London.

Click on the links above each photo to find out more about the theatre.

NATIONAL THEATREScreenshot 2018-12-06 at 13.25.20.jpg

Located at the base of Waterloo Bridge, this building has been the spiritual home of British theatre since its arrival in the 1970s. For any theatre lover, this building is a concrete utopia constantly turning out some of the best produced theatre in the world. Founded by the legendary Laurence Olivier, the National is home to three magnificent spaces.

The biggest stage, the Olivier, evokes the opulence of the ancient Greek theatres. A platform for shows from world-class musicals to Shakespearean classics, the Olivier has been the heart of the National since its inception. Magnificent plays like WAR HORSE and AMADEUS were born in this theatre, their success speaks for itself.

The Lyttleton Theatre, a slightly more conventional theatre space, is the place to see directors at the top of their game. Recent successes from this space include Andrew Garfield in ANGELS IN AMERICA and Bryan Cranston in NETWORK, both which have made the leap to New York.

Finally the National Theatre’s smallest space is the Dorfman. This is the venue to see the best new plays in London. The transfer list is astounding. In just over the last year, BEGINNING, NINE NIGHT, CONSENT and HOME, I’M DARLING, all plays that premiered in the Dorfman, have transferred into the West End.

WHAT TO WATCH IN 2019: Hollywood megastar Cate Blanchett in WHEN WE HAVE SUFFICIENTLY TORTURED EACH OTHER, a revival of Caryl Churchill’s acclaimed TOP GIRLS and the return of Stephen Sondheim’s magnificent musical FOLLIES

BREAKING THE BANK: The National Theatre offers a scheme called Entry Pass for people aged 16-25. Tickets for all productions are available for £7.50 on Entry Pass. Meanwhile, the National offers £20 tickets for all with Friday Rush. At 1pm every Friday, tickets for all shows, even those sold out, are made available online on a first come first serve basis. The NT also tends to offer half price tickets for under-18s.

THE OLD VICScreenshot 2018-12-06 at 13.25.55

Walk southernly past Waterloo station and you reach The Old Vic, one of the most historically vital theatres in the country. A theatre has stood on this site since 1818 making it one of the oldest arts buildings in the capital. In recent years, the theatre has developed a massively diverse repertoire with classic plays, new plays, dance productions, gig-theatre, musicals and more.

Its musical theatre output in the last few years shouldn’t be ignored. In Summer 2016, The Old Vic produced a musical adaptation of the 1990s Bill Murray comedy GROUNDHOG DAY that saw itself on Broadway less than a year later. The following year they produced THE GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY, a play featuring the music of the legendary Bob Dylan. This too found success in a run on the West End and there is strong rumours circulating on a Broadway transfer this Spring too.

The Old Vic is also a place to see stars on stage. Recently, Star Wars actor John Boyega led a new adaptation of WOYZECK, Daniel Radcliffe returned to the London stage in Stoppard’s absurd Hamlet comedy ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD, and the Old Vic convinced the legendary Glenda Jackson out of retirement to take on Shakespeare’s KING LEAR, a role she’ll reprise in New York this Spring.

WHAT TO WATCH IN 2019: American screen stars Bill Pullman and Sally Field join Jenna Coleman and Colin Morgan in a revival of Arthur Miller’s ALL MY SONS. Plus, a new musical adaptation of Scottish comedy-drama LOCAL HERO from the Dire Straits front man Mark Knopfler arrives next Summer.

BREAKING THE BANK: The Old Vic runs a scheme called PWC £10 Previews. For the first few performances of any show, the theatre makes half of the seats in the house available for only £10. The tickets are released on a Monday five-weeks prior to the first preview of any show. These tickets are sold on a first come first served basis and tend to sell out very quickly.

THE YOUNG VICScreenshot 2018-12-06 at 13.26.52

A very short stroll down The Cut and you’ll find the Young Vic Theatre. Initially created as an offshoot of the neighbouring Old Vic, the Young Vic has always had a philosophy of making groundbreaking, fresh theatre, a policy it still holds to this day.

It’s built a reputation as a director’s theatre, particularly presenting classic plays in new innovative ways. Recent productions in this mould have included Benedict Andrews modern version of A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE in 2014 starring Gillian Anderson, Ivo Van Hove’s radical reimagining of A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE that enjoyed huge success in both London and New York, and Simon Stone’s thrilling YERMA with Billie Piper took London by storm in 2016, selling out almost immediately when it announced its return the following year.

It’s also a place to catch hot plays before they hit the commercial sector. This past year has seen the immersive Calais play THE JUNGLE enjoy massive success in the West End. Meanwhile the two part play THE INHERITANCE has been one of the highest acclaimed productions of the year at both the Young Vic and the West End.

It also has one of the best theatre-bars in London, appreciated by actors and audiences alike.

Kwame Kwei-Armah recently took charge of the theatre and has presented an exciting palate of shows into 2020. As this theatre looks to go from strength to strength, you don’t want to miss what’s coming up.

WHAT TO WATCH IN 2019: Black Panther star Letitia Wright in THE CONVERT, Marianne Elliot’s eagerly anticipated new staging of DEATH OF A SALESMAN and a new musical penned by Idris Elba, TREE.

BREAKING THE BANK: The Young Vic remains one of the most affordable theatres in London. Their regular top price is only £40 but their is a variety of ways to get cheaper seats. Under 25s get access to a huge range of £10 tickets. Meanwhile, anyone can get a £10 Lucky Dip ticket (the gamble being you may end up standing or you may find yourself in the best seat in the house). The theatre has also partnered with TodayTix to offer a lottery for the first preview, with winners being able to see the show for just £5.

UNION THEATREScreenshot 2018-12-06 at 13.27.35.jpg

Walk down The Cut, go over Blackfriars Road and enter Union Street. Nestled in a railway arch is one of the most exciting fringe theatres in London, meet the Union Theatre.

The Union has punched above its weight since its inception in 1998. Founded by Sasha Regan, the Union has a brilliant reputation for staging musicals in its tiny studio space. Productions like SWEENEY TODD, THE PAJAMA GAME and ASSASSINS gave the theatre high regard among theatregoers for reinventing huge musicals in a small space. Sasha Regan’s all-male production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s HMS PINAFORE has done the rounds numerous times in the UK, garnering acclaim everytime it’s been recreated.

After 20 years in its space, The Union moved over the road to its current premises in 2016. More recently, the Union has been rediscovering lost British musical treasures. Tim Rice’s forgotten musical comedy BLONDEL was revived in London at the Union for the first time since the 80s, whilst Stiles and Drewe’s early musical HONK! was recreated in the space.

WHAT TO WATCH IN 2019: On the Union’s website, no new production have yet been announced for 2019. They do have form on announcing shows at a short basis so keep an eye out when they do.

BREAKING THE BANK: As a small theatre, the Union is unable to subsidise tickets at a discounted rate. However, their top price tickets are generally only £20 with concessions available at £15. They sometimes discount on TodayTix so keep your eyes peeled for any last minute offers.

SHAKESPEARE’S GLOBEScreenshot 2018-12-06 at 13.31.21.jpg

Turn left down Great Suffolk Street, cross Southwark Street and pass the Tate Modern. Located right by the Thames is London’s stunning Globe Theatre. You’d be mistaken for believing it to be the same building that housed Shakespeare’s premieres in the 1600s, in reality, this one was put up in the 1990s.

In the 1970s, American actor Sam Wanamaker created the Shakespeare Globe Trust, the objective of building a faithful recreation of the original Globe Theatre, close to its original location in London’s Bankside. Sadly, after over 20 years of campaign work to make his dream a reality, Wanamaker passed in 1993. But four years later, his legacy was immortalised, and Shakespeare’s Globe has been presenting Elizabethan classics every Summer since.

The Globe is the closest you’ll get to experiencing Shakespeare’s London, and with the right production, it’s a theatre experience like no other.

In more recent years, the Globe has added another theatre to the building. In 2014, a small-indoor Jacobean theatre, lit by candlelight opened on the complex, named after Sam Wanamaker himself. The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse has allowed the Globe to present classic work all the way through the Winter, ensuring that audiences are able to experience this unique theatre the year round.

It also houses a brilliant Shakespeare exhibition on the complex, a must for any theatre fan.

WHAT TO WATCH IN 2019: The Summer season in the Globe is still to be announced, although previous reports suggest that it will be Shakespeare’s history cycle. Keep an eye out in January for that one. Don’t miss a radical reimagining of RICHARD II in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, featuring an all women company of colour.

BREAKING THE BANK: Audiences are able to see every production in the Globe Theatre for only £5. These standing tickets provide the best view in the theatre, and the most thrilling way to take in a Shakespeare play in London.

MENIER CHOCOLATE FACTORYScreenshot 2018-12-06 at 13.32.31.jpg

Head up the steps to Southwark Bridge and follow the road back South. Here you’ll see a nonchalant looking restaurant on your left. This building is home to the Menier Chocolate Factory, one of the most consistent theatres in London. Housed in an 1870s chocolate factory (who knew), the building is composed of an art gallery, restaurant and rehearsal space. But it’s in the basement that the magic happens here.

Founded in 2004, the Menier basement is home to a 180 seat studio fringe theatre. Since then, it has been the place to see big musical revivals prior to life elsewhere. In its first year, it presented a revival of Sondheim’s masterwork SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE. That production didn’t only go the West End and win five Olivier Awards. It transferred to Broadway in 2008 where it was nominated for a huge nine Tony Awards that year. This production put the Menier on the map, giving it the mantle as the little theatre that could.

In the years since, their rate of success has been nothing short of astonishing. LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS transferred to the West End, LA CAGE AUX FOLLES played both the West End and Broadway. Likewise A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC. In a one year period from September 2015 to September 2016, five out of seven of their productions went on to further life in London. This included FUNNY GIRL starring Sheridan Smith, and TRAVESTIES which also went transatlantic to Broadway this past Summer.

WHAT TO WATCH IN 2019: The Menier looks to continue their musical hit rate with FIDDLER ON THE ROOF in a new staging by theatre legend Trevor Nunn. They also present a new revival of Tennessee Williams’ ORPHEUS DESCENDING next Spring.

BREAKING THE BANK: The Menier do not offer any lower priced ticket schemes. They do however run a meal package with the theatre restaurant that offers good value, although these seats do sell fast. Their productions are also sometimes available at discounted rate on TodayTix, although this depends on the popularity of the production (for reference, FIDDLER ON THE ROOF was sold-out even before it opened).

BRIDGE THEATREScreenshot 2018-12-06 at 13.33.15.jpg

Down Southwark Street, past London Bridge station and along Tooley Street you’ll reach Tower Bridge, home to London’s newest theatre, the Bridge.

Founded last year by Nicholas Hytner and Nick Starr, the Bridge is home to the London Theatre Company. The two Nick’s had a stint at the National Theatre, arguably running the National’s most successful years. During their time, they produced shows such as WAR HORSE, THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME and ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS, all plays that to this day are performed regularly.

The Bridge is one of London’s most exciting new spaces. It’s a 900 seat theatre but has a totally flexible arrangement. This means it can go from traditional proscenium staging, to in-the-round to even promenade with a majority of the audience standing. This format was used to massive success in JULIUS CAESAR earlier this year, one of the most trilling Shakespeare productions London has seen in a long time.

The Bridge is also committed to new writing. They have already collaborated with huge writers in the theatre world such as Richard Bean on their premiere production of YOUNG MARX,  theatre legend Alan Bennett on ALLELUJAH! and stage and screen stalwart Martin McDonagh on A VERY VERY VERY DARK MATTER. It’s still early days for this theatre, but with the team behind it, expect this theatre to be a big player on the London scene in the years to come.

WHAT TO WATCH IN 2019: The return of their acclaimed 2018 production MY NAME IS LUCY BARTON starring Laura Linney, and a new promenade production of Shakespeare’s A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM (if JULIUS CAESAR was anything to go by, don’t miss this).

BREAKING THE BANK: For Under 26 audiences, they offer the free Young Bridge membership, offering £15 tickets for all their productions. They regularly offer rush tickets on TodayTix, allowing all audiences to get remaining tickets for £15 on the day. In their recent productions, the Bridge has also put their front row on sale for £25, a steal considering the view and extended legroom.

These theatres are only some highlights in London’s thrilling cultural quarter. In the area you’ll also find the Vaults Theatre, Waterloo East Theatre, the Bunker Theatre, the Unicorn Theatre and the Rose Playhouse, all bustling fringe spaces in their own right. If you’re looking for something a bit different than the usual West End fare, then look no further than South of the river. There’s theatre on the South Bank for everyone.

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