A complete guide to the Bush Theatre

Get to know this exciting new-writing venue in west London, which has launched the careers of Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Victoria Wood, among others.

Olivia Rook
Olivia Rook

The bright lights of West End theatres are always appealing, but there are also a number of exciting Off-West End venues in the capital, such as the small but mighty Bush Theatre, which is nestled in west London.

This theatre has always punched above its weight, launching the careers of hugely successful writers such as James Graham and Lucy Kirkwood, as well as actors like Victoria Wood, Alan Rickman, Andrew Scott, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge.

It has also premiered shows that later transfer to the West End, such as Tyrell Williams’s hit, coming-of-age play Red Pitch, which is currently playing at @sohoplace and stars Kedar Williams-Stirling, Francis Lovehall, and Emeka Sesay as three lifelong best friends and ambitious amateur footballers.

The theatre has gone on an incredible journey from a small room above a hotel to an established and well-respected venue, which stands by its ethos of amplifying new voices.

Ahead of its next season, learn more about the Bush Theatre and start planning your trip to one of London’s most dynamic new-writing venues.

Get to know the history of the Bush Theatre

The venue’s humble beginnings were in the cramped, upstairs dining room of the Bush hotel (now an O’Neill’s pub) on the corner of Shepherd’s Bush Green in 1972, in a space previously occupied by the actor and choreographer Lionel Blair.

The Bush was launched by the actors John Neville, Andy Barton and Brian McDermott – collectively known as the Alternative Theatre Company. McDermott, who was also involved with the King’s Head Theatre in Islington and helped to save it from bankruptcy, has said his work with both fringe venues is his proudest achievement. Alongside Annette Andre, McDermott starred in the Bush Theatre’s first show, an adaptation of John Fowles’s thriller The Collector.

The small theatre housed a maximum audience of 80 people, but this did not limit its ambition to give up-and-coming writers and actors their start in the industry.

After 38 years at the Bush hotel, the theatre needed to find a new home and nearly lost funding when it struggled to obtain one. The Bush eventually landed on the former Passmore Edwards Public Library, just around the corner from its first home. The move took place in 2011 under the watchful eye of Josie Rourke, the venue’s artistic director.

In 2016, the Bush temporarily closed its doors for a £4.3 million refurbishment, but that didn’t mean producing stopped. Then artistic director Madani Younis saw the closure as a chance to bring work further into the local community, with shows relocated to nearby pubs and laundrettes.

In 2022, the Bush celebrated 50 years of theatremaking. Speaking at the time, artistic director Lynette Linton said: “Looking back at the plays produced both at our original home above a pub on Shepherd’s Bush Green and now our thriving building on the Uxbridge Road, the common thread has been to create debate, to broaden audiences’ horizons, and most importantly to entertain.”

Red Pitch. 1200 LT Francis Lovehall (Omz) , Kedar Williams-Stirling (Bilal), Emeka Sesay (Joey). Credit - Helen Murray 53

Bush Theatre shows that have transferred to the West End

Alongside Tyrell Williams’s Red Pitch, a number of plays have gained recognition and acclaim at this small Off-West End venue and transferred — or almost transferred — to the West End, including:

  • Baby Reindeer by Richard Gadd: Gadd’s haunting story about stalking and sexual assault went to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2019, transferring to the Bush Theatre in October that year. The show was due to open at the Ambassadors Theatre in the West End in April 2020, but was cancelled due to the pandemic. It has now been made into a seven-part Netflix series, in which Gadd stars.
  • Misty by Arinzé Kene: Kene’s play premiered at the Bush in 2018 and, after a series of positive reviews, transferred to Trafalgar Studios (now Trafalgar Theatre) later that year, becoming only the second play by a Black British writer ever to be staged in the West End.
  • Apologia by Alexi Kaye Campbell: Paola Dionisotti and Nina Sosanya starred in Campbell’s play about the choices of women at the Bush in 2009. It was then directed by Jamie Lloyd at Trafalgar Studios in 2017.
  • Whipping it Up by Steve Thompson: Thompson’s political play debuted at the Bush in 2006, and headed to the Ambassadors Theatre in 2007, with a cast that included Richard Wilson and Robert Bathurst.
  • The Glee Club by Richard Cameron: In 2002, the Bush kicked off its 30th season with Cameron’s play about five miners who come together and form a glee club. It later transferred to the Duchess Theatre.
  • Beautiful Thing by Jonathan Harvey: Harvey’s play about a blossoming attraction between two young men premiered at the Bush in 1993, with the original cast including Jonny Lee Miller and Philip Glenister. It transferred to the West End’s Duke of York’s Theatre in 1994 and has been revived many times since. The play was part of the theatre’s 50th birthday celebrations in 2022.

What is it like inside the Bush Theatre?

The Bush’s £4.3 million refurbishment in 2016 means the theatre has three times the capacity of its first home. The venue has two performance spaces: the 144-seater Holloway Theatre, which is its main space, and the more intimate Studio.

The building has a rehearsal space and writer’s room, as well as the Script Library, which is the largest public theatre reference library in the UK. You can also relax with a glass of wine or a cocktail at the venue’s Library Bar and Café.

If you want more dining options, the large shopping centre Westfield is only a short walk away.

How to get to the Bush Theatre

The Bush Theatre is located in west London and is close to a number of stations including Shepherd’s Bush (Central line and Overground services) and Shepherd’s Bush Market (Hammersmith and City line).

What Bush Theatre shows can you book now?

The Bush has just announced its new season, which promises its usual mixture of thrilling voices. Check out these incredible shows having their premiere at this exciting home for new writing.

My Father’s Fable will kick off the season in the main house on 15 June and is written by Faith Omole, who starred in Standing at the Sky’s Edge at the National Theatre. Omole’s play explores the way grief and secrets can tear a family apart.

This is followed by The Real Ones, from the Olivier Award-winning team behind The P Word: Waleed Akhtar (writer) and Antony Simpson-Pike (director). This play about best friends Neelam and Zaid, who are struggling to navigate the rocky landscape of their twenties together, opens on 6 September.

The final main house play is Beru Tessema’s Wolves on Road (9 November-21 December), directed by Red Pitch’s Daniel Bailey, which shows how ambition and hope can be exploited when you’re desperate for your dreams to come true.

The next show in the Bush’s studio space is Lady Dealer by Martha Watson Allpress, which played the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2023 and is about a female drug dealer. It opens on 15 May.

After this is Azan Ahmed’s Statues (14 October-4 November), which follows English teacher Yusuf, who discovers a dusty mixtape that changes everything he knew about his father.

Finally, Eleanor Tindall’s Tender, a love story between two women who find each other without knowing they were even looking, heads to the studio from 20 November-21 December.

Book tickets to shows at the Bush on London Theatre.

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Photo credit: the Bush Theatre. (Photo by Philip Vile)

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