Off-West End theatre guide: See London shows at these renowned Off-West End venues

London's Off-West End theatres are located all across the city and offer as diverse a range of shows as the West End, from world premieres to inventive revivals.

Marianka Swain
Marianka Swain

London is world-famous for its West End, the neighborhood whose theatres show a thrilling mix of long-running shows and new productions, from plays, to musicals to comedies to family fare. But venture outside of the centre of town and you’ll find an equally enthralling mixture provided by the capital’s Off-West End theatres.

Some of these venues are specialist ones – like Shakespeare’s Globe, which recreates the experience of sitting in the original audience for a Shakespeare play. Others focus primarily on new writing, like the Bush Theatre and the Royal Court.

But what they all have in common is a sense of adventure: You never quite know what you’ll encounter at these cutting-edge Off-West End venues. Some of the most influential work in theatre history has begun here – like John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger at the Royal Court and Harold Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter at the Hampstead Theatre.

The bonus is that ticket prices are particularly reasonable at these venues, especially as Off-West End Theatre Week is going on, offering limited-time deals on Off-West End tickets. So you can take a gamble on an unknown show without breaking the bank — and perhaps discover your new favorite show, writer, or performer. Follow our guide to the best Off-West End theatres to visit in London, and get booking during Off-West End Theatre Week.

Book Off-West End Theatre Week tickets on London Theatre.

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Bush Theatre

As the name suggests, this gem of a venue is based in Shepherd’s Bush in west London. The Bush Theatre, founded in 1972, was originally located above a pub, and it took over a former public library in 2011. It now has two performance spaces (the main theatre and a studio), plus a rehearsal space, writers’ room and café/bar – which features an excellent playtext library.

The Bush is committed to supporting new writing from a range of sources. It has championed writers such as Manuel Puig, Simon Stephens, Jack Thorne, Lucy Kirkwood, Mike Bartlett, James Graham, and Nick Payne, who have all gone on to great success. You might well catch the next big thing at the Bush.

Photo credit: The Lyric Hammersmith Theatre

Lyric Hammersmith

Fellow west London theatre the Lyric Hammersmith is another venue with an impressive track record. The Lyric actually began as a music hall in the 19th century, and Frank Matcham redeveloped it as a theatre. A campaign in the 1960s stopped it from being demolished, and it was instead relocated. Like the Bush, it has a main house and a studio.

Among Off-West End theatres, the Lyric is particularly renowned for not just mounting strong shows, but for its serious efforts to engage the local community and work with young people. Welcoming, inclusive productions include its annual pantomime. But it’s not afraid to take bold risks too: Recent efforts include A Doll’s House set in colonial India, and Sarah Kane’s uncompromising Blasted premiered here.

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Shakespeare’s Globe

Founded by Sam Wanamaker in 1997, Shakespeare's Globe is unlike any other theatre in London. It’s a meticulous reconstruction of the Elizabethan playhouse for which Shakespeare wrote many of his plays, built on the spot of the original theatre (destroyed by a fire in the 17th century) right on the River Thames, in Southwark – otherwise known as Bankside.

An indoor space was added in 2014: the atmospheric, candlelit Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. That means the theatre now has year-round programming – mostly Shakespeare plays, though the productions vary from traditional to more experimental. The Globe also premieres some new work, such as Jessica Swale’s brilliant Nell Gwynne. For the most authentic, close-up and very affordable experience, try being a "groundling," which means standing in the yard.

Photo credit: Kiln Theatre (Photo by QueensOfTheHighRoad on Wikipedia)

Kiln Theatre

Originally the Tricycle Theatre, founded in 1980 and renamed in 2018, this northwest London venue (“Kiln” nods to Kilburn) is another small venue that punches above its weight with both its theatre and independent cinema. The 2018 revamp created a more flexible auditorium with increased capacity, plus additional, very smart loos.

That has allowed the Kiln Theatre to be even more inventive in programming exciting new work; the theatre has premiered shows by everyone from Lynn Nottage and Lolita Chakrabarti to Abi Morgan and Oscar winner Florian Zeller. Variety is the spice of life here, from hard-hitting political work to raucous comedies like The 39 Steps or Zadie Smith’s recent take on Chaucer’s The Wife of Bath.

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Southwark Playhouse

At the other end of London, heading southeast, we find Southwark Playhouse – close to Elephant and Castle Tube station. Actually, it’s now two playhouses: The company of the same name originally put down roots in 1993 and moved to its main base (now Southwark Playhouse Borough) in 2013, and a second venue opened nearby in 2023 (Southwark Playhouse Elephant).

That means three spaces (the Borough venue has two) to accommodate a pioneering programme of mainly new plays and musicals, including some that then explode onto the West End – like the U.K. premiere of In the Heights – and the vital showcasing of emerging fringe work. It’s well worth the trek to Southwark Playhouse: you never know what you might find.

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Royal Court

Arguably the U.K.’s premier new-writing venue, the Royal Court is centrally located: right in London’s swish Sloane Square. Its first incarnation opened in 1870, but it came into shape in the 20th-century postwar period, led by the English Stage Company. Its mission: to present the best contemporary plays by young, experimental dramatists.

That it most certainly did, premiering groundbreaking work like John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger and The Entertainer. The theatre also battled censorship to stage plays like Edward Bond’s Saved. Countless era-defining works have since emerged from the Court’s main and studio spaces, like Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls, Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem, and Laura Wade’s Posh. The Royal Court is an unmissable cauldron of new work.

The Young Vic The New Tomorrow

Young Vic

Close to Waterloo, and to fellow leading theatre the Old Vic, the Young Vic began as a company in 1946 performing plays for young audiences. The theatre itself, originally part of the National Theatre, followed in 1969. It now features a flexible main auditorium and the smaller Clare space, and it’s renowned for staging both new work and reinventions of classics.

The Young Vic has an extraordinary range: everything from Daniel Fish’s brooding Oklahoma! revival and James Graham’s politically charged play Best of Enemies to starry Shakespeare (Cush Jumbo as Hamlet) and a Black-led Death of a Salesman. International work thrives here, with exciting imports from America, Europe, and more. You come to the Young Vic, which teems with awards, for the most talked-about shows in town.

Photo credit: Hampstead Theatre (Photo courtesy of Hampstead Theatre)

Hampstead Theatre

Another bijou gem, northwest London’s Hampstead Theatre draws big names for such a small venue – both in the shows and in the audience. No wonder: both its main house and studio space are packed with new work, and many writers (as well as emerging directors, producers, and designers) cut their teeth here.

Celebrated premieres at the Hampstead include Mike Leigh’s Abigail’s Party, Harold Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter, and Amelia Bullmore’s Di and Viv and Rose. Simon Russell Beale, Mark Gatiss, Zoe Wanamaker, and Roger Allam have all trodden its boards. This venue is a stealthy star in London’s theatre firmament.


Riverside Studios

Over on the river, in Hammersmith, you’ll find the aptly named – and very picturesquely located – Riverside Studios. A film studio in the 1930s-50s, then a BBC TV studio, it is now arts complex, where you’ll find movies, exhibitions, dance, comedy, and more.

On the theatre side, Riverside Studios has an eclectic programme, ranging from children’s shows through to decidedly adult fare. That includes the homegrown hit musical Operation Mincemeat, which came here on its way to the West End; Beckett and Strindberg plays; and a theatrical take on Winnie the Pooh. Among that diverse programming, all fitting nicely in its studio space, you’ll almost certainly find something to fire you up.


Park Theatre

Situated in Finsbury Park, in north London, the trendy Park Theatre is a relative newcomer – but quickly becoming a major player on the scene. It opened in 2013, with two playing spaces (one larger) and welcoming bar/cafes: a cross between a neighbourhood venue and an ambitious platform for new writing.

Numerous shows have since premiered here, such as Jonathan Maitland’s political play Dead Sheep (in fact, punchy contemporary tales are something of the Park's specialty), but you’ll also find some potent revivals, like the queer play The Boys in the Band. It’s an invigorating mix of established artists and new arrivals, so you might see the stars of tomorrow.


Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre

Another exciting addition to London’s Off-West End theatre scene is the Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre, which – of course – is in Wembley Park, in northwest London, part of a fantastic new cultural hub. (It’s right next to the delicious street-food court Boxpark.)

This former TV studio is a massive and partly flexible space, allowing for the ambitious staging of shows – since its opening in 2019, the venue has primarily hosted musicals, like Disney’s Newsies and the Sleepless in Seattle adaptation Sleepless. The odd large-scale play occasionally appears there, like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time and War Horse.

Photo credit: Theatre Royal Stratford East (Photo by Sbrooks91 on Wikipedia) 

Theatre Royal Stratford East

This east London venue, built in the late 19th century, has an illustrious history. Patrick Hamilton’s play Gaslight premiered here, and it was the home of Joan Littlewood and her Theatre Workshop company in the 1950s-70s, when she mounted radical productions like Oh, What a Lovely War!

Theatre Royal Stratford East, which has one auditorium, has particularly thrived under its current artistic director, Nadia Fall, becoming a must-visit destination thanks to progressive new shows (including plays, music, dance and gigs) and thought-provoking revivals such as Equus, The Village, and King Hedley II. It feels like the future.

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